ABCs of Probes



Tektronix Probe Selector importance. Be sure that you understand the capabilities
and limitations of the measuring equipment that you’re
With this on-line, interactive tool you can select by series, using. Also, before making any measurements, become
model number, or standards/application and fine tune thoroughly familiar with the system or circuitry that you will
your search with your specific testing requirements. be measuring. Review all documentation and schematics
The list of matching products will update with each click. for the system being measured, paying particular attention
Try it now at: to the levels and locations of voltages in the circuit and
heeding any and all cautionary notations.
Tektronix Resources
Additionally, be sure to review the following safety
Our continually expanding library of technical briefs, precautions to avoid personal injury and to prevent
application notes and other resources will help ensure you damage to the measuring equipment or the systems to
get the most out of your probes and other equipment. which it is attached. For additional explanation of any
Simply contact your local Tektronix representative or visit of the following precautions, please refer to Explanation of Safety Precautions.
Observe All Terminal Ratings
Use Proper Grounding Procedures
Connect and Disconnect Probes Properly
Safety Summary Avoid Exposed Circuitry
When making measurements on electrical or electronic
Avoid RF Burns While Handling Probes
systems or circuitry, personal safety is of paramount
Do Not Operate Without Covers
Do Not Operate in Wet/Damp Conditions
Do Not Operate in an Explosive Atmosphere
Do Not Operate with Suspected Failures
Keep Probe Surfaces Clean and Dry
Do Not Immerse Probes in Liquids


ABCs of Probes

Table of Contents
Probes - The Critical Link to Advanced Probing Techniques . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46 - 54
Measurement Quality . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 - 13 Ground Lead Issues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46
What is a Probe? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Differential Measurements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50
The Ideal Probe . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 Small Signal Measurements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53
The Realities of Probes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Some Probing Tips . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11 Explanation of Safety Precautions . . . . . . . . . . 55 - 56
Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 Observe All Terminal Ratings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 55
Different Probes for Different Needs . . . . . . . . . 14 - 25 Use Proper Grounding Procedures . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 55
Connect and Disconnect . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 55
Why So Many Probes? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
Avoid Exposed Circuitry . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 56
Different Probe Types and Their Benefits . . . . . . . . . . . 16
Avoid RF Burns While Handing Probes . . . . . . . . . . . . 56
Floating Measurements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
Do Not Operate Without Covers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 56
Probe Accessories . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
Do Not Operate in Wet/Damp Conditions . . . . . . . . . . 56
A Guide to Probe Selection . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26 - 31 Do Not Operate in an Explosive Atmosphere . . . . . . . . 56
Do Not Operate with Suspected Failures . . . . . . . . . . 56
Choosing the Right Probe . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26
Keep Probe Surfaces Clean and Dry . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 56
Understanding the Signal Source . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27
Do Not Immerse Probes in Liquids . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 56
Understanding the Oscilloscope . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .29
Selecting the Right Probe . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31 Glossary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57 - 59
How Probes Affect Your Measurements . . . . . . 32 - 40
The Effect of Source Impedance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32
Capacitive Loading . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33
Bandwidth Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35
What To Do About Probing Effects . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40

Understanding Probe Specifications . . . . . . . . 41 - 45
Aberrations (universal) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41
Amp-Second Product (current probes) . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41
Attenuation Factor (universal) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42
Accuracy (universal) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42
Bandwidth (universal) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42
Capacitance (universal) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43
CMRR (differential probes) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43
CW Frequency Current Derating (current probes) . . . . 44
Decay Time Constant (current probes) . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44
Direct Current (current probes) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44
Insertion Impedance (current probes) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44
Input Capacitance (universal) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44
Input Resistance (universal) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44
Maximum Input Current Rating (current probes) . . . . . 44
Maximum Peak Pulse Currnt Rating (current probes) . . 44
Maximum Voltage Rating (universal) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45
Propagation Delay (universal) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45
Rise Time (universal) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45
Tangential Noise (active probes) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45
Temperature Range (universal) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45 3

1. some sort of device or network that connects the signal If the probe doesn’t maintain signal fidelity.Primer Figure 1. The result can be wrong or misleading measurements. in the measurement diagram.1. And the strength of this measurement Probe Tip chain relies as much on the probe as the oscilloscope. 4 www. and try to make a measurement. probes are also critical to measurement quality. it is imperative that the probe have Depending on your measurement needs. where the probe is indicated as an undefined box the oscilloscope sees a distorted version of the actual signal. As a first step. Figure 1. A probe is a device that makes a physical and electrical connection between the oscilloscope and test . it’s enough to say that an oscilloscope probe is the desired measurements. and an oscilloscope can only display and measure the signal Basically.tektronix. a probe of the strengths and weaknesses of probes and how to select some sort between the signal to be measured and the the right probe for your application. disconnect the probes from an oscilloscope probing methods. Probes are vital to oscilloscope measurements. a probe makes a physical and electrical connection that the probe delivers to the oscilloscope input. Weaken that first link with an inadequate probe or poor stand how vital. You’ll also learn some oscilloscope’s input channel. This is illustrated in signal in any way or changes the way a circuit operates. this connection can be made with something as simple as a length of wire or with minimum impact on the probed circuit and something as sophisticated as an active differential probe. In addition to being vital to oscilloscope measurements. let’s establish what an oscilloscope probe is. important tips for using probes properly. and the entire chain is weakened. you’ll learn what contributes to has to be some kind of electrical connection. the probe is the first link in the oscilloscope measurement chain. Precision Measurements Start at the In essence. if it changes the source to the input of the oscilloscope. To under. between a test point or signal source and an oscilloscope. that it maintain adequate signal fidelity for At this point. Connecting What Is a Probe? a probe to a circuit can affect the operation of the circuit. There In this and following sections. Thus. It can’t be done.

attaching the probe to a circuit must have minimum affect on the way the circuit operates. a probe cable. Difficulty in connecting a probe to a test Figure 1. and signal transmission. as indicated in Figure 1. such as high-density surface In addition to the length of cable. ABCs of Probes Physically attaching the probe to the test point also establish- es an electrical connection between the probe tip and the oscilloscope input. Connection ease and convenience To make an oscilloscope measurement.tektronix. or handle. For miniaturized circuitry. and a compensation box or other signal conditioning network. is a tradeoff for this convenience. it must provide a connection The Ideal Probe of adequate convenience and quality between the signal In an ideal world. impact on circuit operation. The adequacy key attributes: of connection has three key defining issues – physical attach- ment. you should also be able to make the reduces the probe’s bandwidth. the ideal probe would offer the following source and the oscilloscope input (Figure 1. the physical connection with both ease and convenience. much of this primer is devoted to those issues.2). The probe cable With the ideal probe. However. To make Zero signal source loading this possible. Often. the issue of physical connection should never be ignored. Because probing effects and signal fidelity are the more complex topics. Whatever the probe is in reality. and the signal at the probe tip must be transmitted with adequate fidelity through the probe head and cable to the oscilloscope’s input. www. and adequate signal fidelity – encom- pass most of what goes into proper selection of a probe. connection ease and convenience probe head. For useable measurement results. with a probe tip. the longer the cable. greater the reduction.2. There been mentioned as one of the key requirements of probing.2. point often leads to probing practices that reduce fidelity. minimum impact on circuit operation. These three issues – physical attachment. make contact with the test point. you must first be Absolute signal fidelity able to physically get the probe to the test point. though. Most probes consist of a probe head. most probes also have a mount technology (SMT). most probes have at least a meter or two of Complete noise immunity cable associated with them. this probe tip is in the form of a spring-loaded hook that allows you to actually attach the probe to the test 5 . The probe head are promoted through subminiature probe heads and allows you to hold the probe while you maneuver the tip to various probe-tip adapters designed for SMT devices. This probe cable allows the oscilloscope to be left in a stationary Connection Ease and Convenience position on a cart or bench top while the probe is moved Making a physical connection to the test point has already from test point to test point in the circuit being tested.

For power applications. From these few examples of physical connection. Not only are these ideal requirements impossible to achieve in reality. and other typical oscilloscope applications. it’s clear that there’s no single ideal probe size or configuration for all applications. These Figures 1. there’s no need for an infinite bandwidth probe. c. Zero Signal Source Loading The circuitry behind a test point can be thought of as or mod- eled as a signal source. and thus changes the signal seen at the test point. Because of this. In other words. TV. however. where Figure 1. physically larger probes with greater margins of safety are required. Figures 1.3c is a clamp-on current probe. the signal as it occurs at the probe tip should be faithfully duplicated at the oscilloscope input.tektronix. Still.3. Any external device. b. High-voltage probe. For absolute fidelity. various probe sizes and configurations have been designed to meet the physical connection requirements of various applications.3a. and linear phase across all frequencies. but they are impractical.Primer Such a probing system is shown in Figure 1. when you’re dealing with audio frequency signals.3b is a high-voltage probe and Figure 1. that’s attached to the test point can appear as an additional load on the signal source behind the test point. the probe circuitry from tip to oscillo- scope input must have zero attenuation. The external device acts as a load when it draws signal current from the circuit (the signal source). infinite bandwidth. 6 www. within a given bandwidth of operation. This loading. or signal current draw. Various probes are available for different application technologies and measurement needs. such as a probe. Clamp-on current probe. or oscilloscope for that matter. are too small for practical use in applica- tions such as industrial power circuitry where high voltages and larger gauge wires are common.3b and 1. oscilloscope input with absolute signal fidelity. Probing SMT devices. absolute signal fidelity is an ideal to be sought after. Absolute Signal Fidelity The ideal probe should transmit any signal from probe tip to . Nor is there a need for infinite bandwidth when 500 MHz will do for covering most high-speed digital.3c show examples of such probes. probes. changes the operation of the circuitry behind the test point. For example.

In practice. noise sources. should always be to minimize the amount of loading through appropriate probe selection. ABCs of Probes An ideal probe causes zero signal source loading. a probe with zero signal source loading cannot be achieved. distributed capacitance (C). This means that. the probe must have infinite impedance. the signal delivered to the The picture changes for AC signals because any piece of oscilloscope has no more noise on it than what appeared wire has distributed inductance (L). for AC signals. www. L.4a). can still be a problem for certain low-level signals. signal frequency increases. even if it’s just a when selecting and using probes. essentially presenting an open circuit to the test point. it’s important to realize that a probe. the picture less than ideal choice for an oscilloscope probe. L. It’s further. As a result. important to be aware of these limitations and their effects First. Through good probe design. and electrical noise sources in our environment. The preceding discussion of The Ideal Probe mentioned and C elements of a probe can be controlled to provide several realities that keep practical probes from reaching the desired degrees of signal fidelity. The distributed capacitance however. of these reactive elements (L and C). the R. common mode noise can present a problem for current flow as signal frequency increases. some signal source loading is to be expected when using a probe. This is because a probe must draw some small amount of signal current in order to develop a signal voltage at the oscilloscope input. simple piece of wire. produces a total probe impedance that varies The Realities of Probes with signal frequency. Because conductor pair with some series resistance and a terminating of susceptibility to induced noise. The distributed inductance reacts In practice. Probes are circuits composed of distributed resistance. reacts to AC signals with decreasing impedance to AC In particular. causing the noise to be added to signals. a simple piece of wire is a resistance (Figure 1.4b).tektronix. a probe appears as a simple circuitry. can induce their noise onto nearby electrical cables and For DC signals (0 Hz frequency). it doesn’t draw any signal current from the signal source. however. use of shielding allows probes to achieve a high to AC signals by increasingly impeding AC current flow as level of noise immunity for most common signal levels. and source ideal. along with the resistive elements (R). However. These sources capacitance (R. Complete Noise Immunity Fluorescent lights and fan motors are just two of the many Figure 1-4. Noise. probes are limited by the nature of their circuitry. as will be discussed later. is potentially a very complex circuit. Consequently. To understand how this can affect your oscilloscope loading over specified frequency ranges. inductance. and any wire pair has on the signal at the test point. changes dramatically as signal frequencies increase The ideal oscilloscope probe is completely immune to all (Figure 7 . Even with good measurements. and C). The goal. for zero current draw. The interaction differential measurements. In other words. attenuation. we need to explore the realities of probes design.

or oscilloscope is designed to make measurements within specification on all frequencies up to 100 MHz. you run the risk of unpredictable measurement results. limits. the oscilloscope must have an adequate rise time Unfortunately. Probes and oscilloscopes are designed to make measurements to specification over an operating bandwidth. Bandwidth and Rise Time Limitations Figure 1. rise time limits. instantaneous-rise pulse were with this. Rise time measurement error can be estimated from the above . Tr = 0. oscilloscope. The same is true for rise times. This is important because should be three to five times faster than that of the pulse the oscilloscope and probe together form a measurement being measured (Figure 1. 8 www. manufacturers of quality oscilloscopes specify applied. At frequencies beyond the 3 dB point.Primer Amplitude Bandwidth Figure 1. following relationship: As a general rule. when a probe is attached to an higher-frequency components of non-sinusoidal waveforms.6.5). A 5:1 ratio would result in only 2% error. And. For example. For reasonable accuracy in measuring pulse rise or bandwidth or rise time to the probe tip when the oscilloscope fall times. The rise time of an and the individual oscilloscope and probe bandwidths is oscilloscope or probe is defined as the rise time that would not a simple one. If you use a probe that is not on the oscilloscope’s recommended list of probes.5. Unwanted In cases where rise time isn’t specified. To cope be measured if an ideal. Similarly. signal amplitudes become overly attenuated and measurement results may be unpredictable. the relationship between system bandwidth for the waveforms being measured. Bandwidth is the range of frequencies that an oscilloscope An oscilloscope/probe combination with a rise time three times faster than the pulse or probe is designed for. for accurate amplitude measurements. system.6). the rise time of the probe and oscilloscope together is used with specific probe models. a 100 MHz probe being measured (3:1 ratio) can be expected to measure the pulse rise time to within 5%.35/BW the bandwidth of the oscilloscope should be five times Every oscilloscope has defined bandwidth and rise time greater than the frequency of the waveform being measured.tektronix. and it’s the bandwidth and rise time of the system that determine its measurement capabilities. you can derive rise or unpredictable measurement results can occur at signal time (Tr) from the bandwidth (BW) specification with the frequencies above the specified bandwidth (Figure 1. Similarly. you get a new set of system bandwidth and such as square waves. every probe also has its own set of bandwidth This “five-times rule” ensures adequate bandwidth for the and rise time limits.

com/accessories 9 .9 V they cause less signal source loading. the effective load resistance in Figure 1. the maximum safe voltage limit is often in the range of tens of volts.000 V/50. = 10.000) Source Loading = 5. For the The simplest example of source loading effects is to consider example above.000/(100 + 50.100 For most general-purpose use.7. this means that you can typically make reasonably accurate measurements on signals ranging from 4 mV peak-to-peak to 40 V peak-to-peak. For example. if you plan In Figure 1. www. for active probes. the battery’s DC voltage is divided across the 40 V range? battery’s internal resistance (Ri) and the load resistance (Ri) that the battery is driving. To avoid personal safety hazards.000. 10X probes are preferred. For the values given in the diagram. before a probe is But. shifts the dynamic range to 40 mV to 400 V.000. However. If Rp is to consider a switchable 1X/10X probe. With a 1X probe (1-times probe). a probe has been attached to the circuit. you may want placing the probe resistance (Rp) in parallel with RI. You can shift the oscilloscope’s dynamic range to higher this results in an output voltage of: voltages by using an attenuating probe. This places a load at the test point that can change the signal that the circuit. in the 1X half to 50 kΩ . In addition to safety considerations.tektronix. there’s also the practical consideration of measurement dynamic range. at minimum. what if you need to measure a signal beyond the attached. this limit can range from hundreds of volts to thousands of volts.7 An example of resistive loading. a probe must draw some signal current in order to develop a signal voltage at the oscillo. mode.7b is cut in dynamic range of 4 mV to 400 V. ABCs of Probes Dynamic Range Limitations All probes have a high-voltage safety limit that should not be exceeded. delivers to the test point. This gives you a 100 kΩ . This assumes. The loading effect of this on Eo is: Eo = 100 V * 50.7a. However. For passive probes. = 99. the dynamic measurement range is the same as that of the oscilloscope. In Figure 1. A 10X probe. as well as potential damage to the probe.000) which effectively multiplies the oscilloscope’s scaling by 10.100 As previously mentioned. both because of their high-end voltage range and because = 99. for example. to measure a very wide range of voltage levels. is shown in Figure 1. However. = 100 V * 100. more care must be taken with regard to signal source loading. or signal source.000/(100 + 100. 1 mV to 10 V/division is a typical sensitivity range. Oscilloscopes have amplitude sensitivity ranges. It Eo = Eb * RI/( Ri + RI) does this by attenuating the input signal by a factor of 10. Figure 1.000 V/100. This of 4 mV to 40 V.7b. On an eight-division display. this would be a signal measurement range measurement of a battery-driven resistive network. it’s wise to be aware of the voltages being measured and the voltage limits of the probes being used.8 V scope input. a four-division amplitude display of the signal to obtain reasonable measurement resolution.

9 V versus 99. 10 www. The result is increased loading at high frequencies. Some loading should be with the probe capacitance to cause ringing at a certain fre- expected. the effect would no longer be negligible. 1X probes typically have a resistance of 1 MΩ . P6101B 1X 1 MΩ 100 pF P6109B 10X 10 MΩ 13 pF P6139A 10X 10 MΩ 8 pF P6243 10X 1 MΩ ≤1 pF Table 1. though.Primer Figure 1. To avoid grounding problems.tektronix. For low can be reduced by designing probe grounding so that the frequencies. The effects of ringing the capacitance at the probe tip (see Figure 1. it’s low tip capacitance values.8. quency that is determined by the L and C values. these values result tributed inductance (see Figure 1. and there’s little or no effect. That is. Some typical capacitance values important to keep in mind that probes are sensors. and may be seen as a sinusoid of decaying Usually. they sense or probe a voltage signal and convey that voltage signal to Probe Attenuation R C the oscilloscope input.1. it has some amount of dis- resistance of 10 MΩ .9). and 10X probes typically have a Since the ground lead is a wire. when measuring high-resistance sources. capacitive reactance (Xc) decreases. increases. This ringing is unavoidable. probe tip capacitance (Cp) is the greatest loading concern. Most for various probes are provided in the table below: oscilloscope probes are voltage sensors. Figure 1. To minimize such resistive loading.9. there are also probes that allow you to sense phenomena other than voltage signals. ringing on fast pulses. But. Probes are Sensors Capacitive loading can be minimized by selecting probes with In dealing with the realities of oscilloscope probes. as frequency probe/oscilloscope system. As signal frequency increases. For AC signal sources. However. This loading effect of 99. However.8 V is only 0. Probe capacitance. For most cases. Substituting other means of This capacitive loading affects the bandwidth and rise time grounding can cause ringing to appear on measured pulses. The longer the ground lead. causing more signal flow through the capacitor.8). this capacitance has a reactance that is ringing frequency occurs beyond the bandwidth limit of the very high. This inductance interacts in virtually no resistive loading. the capacitive reactance decreases. always use the shortest ground lead provided with the . the greater the inductance and the greater the likelihood of seeing say 10 kΩ . The probe ground lead adds inductance to the circuit. the loading of greatest concern is that caused by amplitude that is impressed on pulses. if Rp were smaller. characteristics of the measurement system by reducing bandwidth and increasing rise time.1% and is negligible for most purposes.

Attach the probe to the oscilloscope. If your probe has a compensation network. The possibilities are as wide as the variety of available flat tops with no overshoot or rounding (see Figure 1. combination must be viewed as a measurement system. the transducer. Actually making the measurements and obtaining useful results also depends on how you use the tools. To deal with this where necessary. transducers on the market. 2. Probe compensation adjustments are done either at the probe head or at a compensation box where the box attaches to the oscilloscope input. If the oscilloscope has a built-in calibration routine. allows you non-magnetic adjustment tool to adjust the compensation to view machinery vibration signatures on an oscilloscope network to obtain a calibration waveform display that has screen. always compensate probes right after as well and can cause loading effects. The probe converts the channel that you are using. A vibration 11 . run In all cases. (10X and 100X probes). oscilloscope voltage probes can be used with a variety of other sensors or transducers to measure different 3. Attach the probe tip to the probe compensation test point on the oscilloscope’s front panel (see Figure 1. Transducers have bandwidth limits avoid such errors. current probes are designed to sense the this network to compensate the probe for the oscilloscope current flowing through a wire. especially in measuring pulse rise or fall times. use the following sensed current to a corresponding voltage signal which is procedure: then conveyed to the input of the oscilloscope. Additionally. However. An uncompensated probe can lead to various measurement Moreover. The following probing tips will help you avoid some common measurement pitfalls: Compensate Your Probes Most probes are designed to match the inputs of specific oscilloscope models. the realities of probes discussed above also extend errors. there are slight variations from oscilloscope to oscilloscope. 4.10.11). probe. To do this. ABCs of Probes Some Probing Tips Selecting probes that match your oscilloscope and applica- tion needs gives you the capability for making the necessary measurements. have built-in compensation networks. optical probes sense light power and convert it to a voltage signal for measurement by an oscilloscope. and oscilloscope this routine for increased accuracy. especially attenuating probes Figure 1. To down to the transducer. 1. many probes. you should adjust For example. though.10). connecting them to the oscilloscope and check compensa- tion frequently. www. for example. and even between different input channels in the same oscilloscope. Similarly. Use the adjustment tool provided with the probe or other phenomena.

rise time has been changed from 4. 28 inch lead attached to probe lead. Direct probe tip contact. 6. Properly .tektronix.5 inch probe ground lead.67 ns. Two-inch wire at probe tip. In this case. Examples of probe compensation effects on a square wave. Even a short piece of wire soldered to a test point can cause signal fidelity problems.74 ns to 5.13. Also.Primer Overcompensated. Under compensated. it’s wise to check probe compensation whenever you change probe tip adaptors. Extending the length of the probe ground lead can cause ringing to appear on pulses.12. Figure 1.11. 12 www. Figure 1. Figure 1.

tektronix. measured via a short piece of wire between the circuit and probe tip. Unfortunately. However. www. it’s not ground lead. and boards or systems. where a circuit is made while using the standard probe ground lead and an measured by direct contact of the probe tip and then extended ground lead. In the following chapters. the added inductance of an extended ground lead can cause The problem is that even an inch or two of wire can cause ringing to appear on fast-transition waveforms. Summary In this first chapter. it may be tempting to extend the probe’s electrically repeatable and stable. ABCs of Probes Use Appropriate Probe Tip Adapters Whenever Possible Keep Ground Leads as Short and as Direct as Possible. The trated in Figure 1.12. A probe tip adapter that’s appropriate for the circuit being When doing performance checks or troubleshooting large measured makes probe connection quick. which shows waveform measurements effect of this is shown in Figure 1. convenient.13. An extended ground lead allows you to attach uncommon to see short lengths of wire soldered to circuit the ground once and freely move the probe around the points as a substitute for a probe tip adapter. we’ve tried to provide all of the basic information necessary for making appropriate probe selec- tions and using probes properly. This is illus- significant impedance changes at high frequencies. system while you look at various test points. we’ll expand on this information as well as introduce more advanced information on probes and probing 13 .

TekVPI probes are an ideal choice for Bandwidth is just the beginning. Is such a broad selection of probes really Standard BNC Probes. TekConnect® Probes. probe selection must also include connector compati. equipped probes communicates scale information to the oscilloscope so that the oscilloscope correctly conveys accurate amplitude information. you’ll be better prepared to make probe selections to match both the oscilloscope you are using and the type of measurements that you need to make. And still others. chapter you’ll discover the reasons why. probes should be selected to match the oscilloscope’s bandwidth whenever possible. perhaps even thousands. TekVPI® Probes. trace ID. both in capa- active electronic probe designs. Low cost passive probes generally necessary? The answer is Yes. 14 www. Oscilloscopes applications where computer control is important. Thus. or connection through an appropriate Figure 2.1. Different oscilloscopes require different probes. TekProbe™ Level 2 BNC Probes. bility and cost. Probe to oscilloscope interfaces adaptor. for a 100 MHz oscilloscope. can also have different input connector types and different input impedances. most scopes use a simple BNC-type input connector.Primer Different Probes for Different Needs Hundreds.1. Others may use an SMA connec- tor. Probes with TekConnect interface support the highest bandwidth active probes offered by Tektronix. TekVPI equipped probes offer advances in power management and remote control. designed to support probe requirements >20 GHz. bility with the oscilloscope being used. TekProbe Level 1 BNC connector results. a different set of probes designed to support a 100 MHz bandwidth is needed. the selection should be in favor of exceeding the oscilloscope’s bandwidth. have specially designed connectors to support readout. The benefit is that proper probe selection leads to enhanced measurement capabilities and TekProbe™ Level 1 BNC Probes. those same probes would be overkill. For example.tektronix. or other special features. Why So Many Probes? The wide selection of oscilloscope models and capabilities is one of the fundamental reasons for the number of available probes. Failing that. The TekProbe Level 2 BNC shares the scale information of the Level 1 but also provides power for a whole host of However. of different oscilloscope probes are available on the market. and in this have a plain BNC connector. From an understanding of those reasons. The TekConnect interface is Thus. This can be direct connector compatibility. though. probe . A 400 MHz oscilloscope requires probes that will support that 400 MHz bandwidth. as shown in Figure 2. Probes with a plain BNC connector will connect with virtually all Tektronix oscilloscopes. As a general rule.

volt. and kilovolt measurements typically through adjustment of the probe’s compensation network. it’s important that the probe’s R and C different compensation ranges to meet the requirements match the R and C of the oscilloscope it is to be used with. Thus. scopes also have different input resistance and capacitance values. 50 Ω probes should be used with 50 Ω oscilloscope inputs. it’s not unusual to find probes with transfer and fidelity. various b. As a result. while differential signals are the difference between two signal lines or test points (b).) much of the basic probe inventory available on the market. the best when attenuator probes are used. ABCs of Probes Readout support is a particularly important aspect of probe/oscilloscope connector compatibility. This is only possible. should also match the nominal input capacitance of the The most basic differences are in the voltage ranges being oscilloscope. www. a 10X probe probe-to-oscilloscope match is always obtained by using the for a 50 Ω environment will have a 500 Ω input resistance. amplitude measurements made with the 10X probe will be ten times lower than they should be. If a. extra caution is necessary when using generic probes in place of the probes specifically recommended by the oscilloscope manufacturer. These probes multiply the measurement range of the oscillo- scope. there can be great variations in input capacitance depending on the oscilloscope’s bandwidth nominal input capacitance is within the compensation range specification and other design factors. tremendously simplified by oscilloscope manufacturers. if the oscilloscope’s vertical scale readout is 1 V/div (one volt per division) with a 1X probe attached and you change to a 10X probe. oscilloscope input resistances are either Figure 15 . this capacitance matching can be done measured. of different oscilloscope inputs. the probe’s capacitance probes that are necessary for different measurements needs. Often. this 1X to 10X change is not reflected in the oscilloscope’s readout. and a 10X probe for a 1 MΩ environment will have a 10 MΩ Use of any probe other than the manufacturer-specified input resistance. though. standard probe specified by the oscilloscope manufacturer. When 1X and 10X probes are interchanged on a oscilloscope. the vertical readout should change by a factor of 10 to 10 V/div. Single-ended signals are referenced to ground (a). 1 MΩ probes should be used The issue of matching a probe to an oscilloscope has been on scopes with a 1 MΩ input resistance. the oscilloscope’s vertical scale readout should reflect the 1X Single-Ended Signal to 10X change. when the oscilloscope’s 100X). probe may result in less than optimum measurement are also referred to as divider probes and multiplier probes. Oscilloscope manufacturers carefully design probes and An exception to this one-to-one resistance matching occurs oscilloscopes as complete systems. In addition to bandwidth and connector differences. Millivolt. and they do this by attenuating or dividing down the Probe-to-oscilloscope matching requirements alone generate input signal supplied to the oscilloscope.tektronix. For example. such as a 10X probe. 10X. (Attenuator probes. require probes with different attenuation factors (1X. For example. Some generic or commodity probes may not support Differential Signal readout capability for all scopes. For proper signal of the probe. For example. 50 Ω or 1 MΩ . performance. This probe count is then added to significantly by the different In addition to resistance matching. Typically. Similarly. However.2. As a result.

The rest of this chapter covers some of the more range from less than 100 MHz to 500 MHz or more. As such. There is. that a switchable 1X/10X yet another class of probes referred to as differential probes. computer disk read channels. That is. common types of probes and their special benefits. Not only are their attenuation factors different. their bandwidths typically probes. and voltage divider it’s important to realize that there’s often overlap in types. a special category of passive probes Different Probe Types and Their Benefits that provide much higher bandwidths. typically a few picoFarads (pF) down power to the probe. a 1X probe may be more appropriate or two wires. probe is essentially two different probes in . which typically are high-speed device characterization. and is the type of probe typically supplied as a standard accessory with oscilloscopes. Such ultra-low capacitance has several Because of their relative simplicity. and capacitors. Measuring these signals requires should be kept in mind. It multi-phase power circuits. Of these. and time domain reflectometry Similarly. the active device is and when needed for compensation or attenuation. and differential probes can also be active or passive a bandwidth of several gigaHertz and a rise time of probes. differential probes are a special type of voltage (TDR). however. resistors a field-effect transistor (FET). transistors. Such differential signals are common in moderate amplitude signals (tens of millivolts to tens of volts). And then there are many cases. variously as 50 Ω probes. A typical 50 Ω probe for such applications has probe. Most often. the signal exists across two points or to-peak or less. passive probes tend to desirable effects. This can be seen from Passive voltage probes are available with various attenuation the formula for Xc. and 100X – for different voltage ranges.Primer Also. high value of capacitive reactance. where current is of as much or more interest than different as well. to less than 1 pF. will be pointed out. Such applications are best served with yet another match the oscilloscope’s input and will not provide the class of probes that sense current rather than voltage. 10X. Current probes and differential probes are just two special Most passive probes are designed for use with general classes of probes among the many different types of available purpose oscilloscopes. They are referred to As a preface to discussing various common probe types. and a switchable 1X/10X probe can be a great convenience. Xc. there are many cases where the signal voltages are For applications where signal amplitudes are one-volt peak- differential. the 10X passive voltage probe is the most commonly used probe. microwave communication.tektronix. neither of which is at ground or common potential even necessary. Where there’s a mix of low amplitude and (see Figure 2. and impedance (R and C) characteristics are tions. 16 www. These probes are designed for use in 50 Ω environ- Certainly a voltage probe senses voltage exclusively.2). probes. for their operation. C. Zo probes. As a result. and thus no need to supply input capacitance. such as Passive probes are constructed of wires and connectors. but their bandwidth. There are no active components – transistors The advantage of a FET input is that it provides a very low or amplifiers – in the probe. particularly in power applica- rise time. be the most rugged and economical of probes. They are First. which is: factors – 1X. optimum performance achieved with a standard 10X probe. however. these probes will not exactly voltage. Where appropriate these overlapping relationships 100 picoseconds or faster. but a ments. telephone voice circuits. voltage probe can be a passive probe or an active probe. translates to a easy to use and are also the most widely used type of probe. recall that a low value of capacitance. Active Voltage Probes Passive Voltage Probes Active probes contain or rely on active components.

ABCs of Probes

CH1 – CH2

Disk Read Head Preamp


Differential Probe



Figure 2.4. Differential signals can be measured using the invert and add feature of
Figure 2.3. Some examples of differential signal sources. a dual-channel oscilloscope (a), or preferably by using a differential probe (b).

Still, the high bandwidth of FET probes is a major benefit and
Since capacitive reactance is the primary input impedance
their linear voltage range covers many typical semiconductor
element of a probe, a low C results in a high input impedance
voltages. Thus, active FET probes are often used for low sig-
over a broader band of frequencies. As a result, active FET
nal level applications, including fast logic families such as
probes will typically have specified bandwidths ranging from
ECL, GaAs, and others.
500 MHz to several GHz.
In addition to higher bandwidth, the high input impedance of Differential Probes
active FET probes allows measurements at test points of Differential signals are signals that are referenced to each
unknown impedance with much less risk of loading effects. other instead of earth ground. Figure 2.3 illustrates several
Also, longer ground leads can be used since the low capaci- examples of such signals. These include the signal developed
tance reduces ground lead effects. The most important across a collector load resistor, a disk drive read channel
aspect, however, is that FET probes offer such low loading, signal, multi-phase power systems, and numerous other situ-
that they can be used on high-impedance circuits that would ations where signals are in essence “floating” above ground.
be seriously loaded by passive probes.
Differential signals can be probed and measured in two basic
With all of these positive benefits, including bandwidths as ways. Both approaches are illustrated in Figure 2.4.
wide as DC to several GHz, you might wonder: Why bother
Using two probes to make two single-ended measurements,
with passive probes?
as shown in Figure 2.4a is an often used method. It’s also
The answer is that active FET probes don’t have the voltage usually the least desirable method of making differential
range of passive probes. The linear dynamic range of active measurements. Nonetheless, the method is often used
probes is generally anywhere from ±0.6 V to ±10 V. Also because a dual-channel oscilloscope is available with two
the maximum voltage that they can withstand can be as low probes. Measuring both signals to ground (single-ended) and
as ±40 V (DC + peak AC). In other words you can’t measure using the oscilloscope’s math functions to subtract one from
from millivolts to tens of volts like you can with a passive the other (channel A signal minus channel B) seems like an
probe, and active probes can be damaged by inadvertently elegant solution to obtaining the difference signal. And it
probing a higher voltage. They can even be damage by a can be in situations where the signals are low frequency and
static discharge. have enough amplitude to be above any concerns of noise. 17


There are several potential problems with combining two
single-ended measurements. One problem is that there are
two long and separate signal paths down each probe and
through each oscilloscope channel. Any delay differences
between these paths results in time skewing of the two
signals. On high-speed signals, this skew can result in
significant amplitude and timing errors in the computed
difference signal. To minimize this, matched probes should
be used.
Another problem with single-ended measurements is that
they don’t provide adequate common-mode noise rejection.
Many low-level signals, such as disk read channel signals,
are transmitted and processed differentially in order to take
advantage of common-mode noise rejection. Common-mode
noise is noise that is impressed on both signal lines by such
Figure 2.5. High-voltage probes can measure DC voltages up to 20 kV and pulses up
things as nearby clock lines or noise from external sources
to 40 kV with a bandwidth of 75 MHz.
such as fluorescent lights. In a differential system this com-
mon-mode noise tends to be subtracted out of the differential High-voltage Probes
signal. The success with which this is done is referred to as The term “high voltage” is relative. What is considered high
the common-mode rejection ratio (CMRR). voltage in the semiconductor industry is practically nothing in
Because of channel differences, the CMRR performance of the power industry. From the perspective of probes, however,
single-ended measurements quickly declines to dismal levels we can define high voltage as being any voltage beyond
with increasing frequency. This results in the signal appearing what can be handled safely with a typical, general-purpose
noisier than it actually would be if the common-mode 10X passive probe.
rejection of the source had been maintained. Typically, the maximum voltage for general-purpose passive
A differential probe, on the other hand, uses a differential probes is around 400 to 500 volts (DC + peak AC). High-
amplifier to subtract the two signals, resulting in one voltage probes on the other hand can have maximum ratings
differential signal for measurement by one channel of the as high as 20,000 volts. An example of such a probe is
oscilloscope (Figure 2.4b). shown in Figure 2.5.
This provides substantially higher CMRR performance over Safety is a particularly important aspect of high-voltage
a broader frequency range. Additionally, advances in circuit probes and measurements. To accommodate this, many
miniaturization have allowed differential amplifiers to be high-voltage probes have longer than normal cables. Typical
moved down into the actual probe head. In the latest cable lengths are 10 feet. This is usually adequate for locating
differential probes, this has allowed a 1-GHz bandwidth to the oscilloscope outside of a safety cage or behind a safety
be achieved with CMRR performance ranging from 60 dB shroud. Options for 25-foot cables are also available for those
(1000:1) at 1 MHz to 30 dB (32:1) at 1 GHz. This kind of cases where oscilloscope operation needs to be further
bandwidth/CMRR performance is becoming increasingly removed from the high-voltage source.
necessary as disk drive read/write data rates reach and
surpass the 100 MHz mark.


ABCs of Probes

Current Probes
Current flow through a conductor causes an electromagnetic
flux field to form around the conductor. Current probes are
designed to sense the strength of this field and convert it to a
corresponding voltage for measurement by an oscilloscope.
This allows you to view and analyze current waveforms with
an oscilloscope. When used in combination with an oscillo-
scope’s voltage measurement capabilities, current probes
also allow you to make a wide variety of power measure-
ments. Depending on the waveform math capabilities of the
oscilloscope, these measurements can include instantaneous
power, true power, apparent power, and phase.
There are basically two types of current probes for oscillo-
scopes. AC current probes, which usually are passive probes,
and AC/DC current probes, which are generally active Figure 2.6. A voltage is induced across any coil that is placed in the changing flux field
probes. Both types use the same principle of transformer around a conductor which is carrying alternating current (AC).
action for sensing alternating current (AC) in a conductor.
In all cases, there’s also a low-frequency cutoff for AC current
For transformer action, there must first be alternating current probe bandwidth. This includes direct current (DC), since
flow through a conductor. This alternating current causes a direct current doesn’t cause a changing flux field and, thus,
flux field to build and collapse according to the amplitude and cannot cause transformer action. Also at frequencies very
direction of current flow. When a coil is placed in this field, as close to DC, 0.01 Hz for example, the flux field still may not
shown in Figure 2.6, the changing flux field induces a voltage be changing fast enough for appreciable transformer action.
across the coil through simple transformer action. Eventually, though, a low frequency is reached where the
This transformer action is the basis for AC current probes. transformer action is sufficient to generate a measurable out-
The AC current probe head is actually a coil that has been put within the bandwidth of the probe. Again, depending on
wound to precise specifications on a magnetic core. When the design of the probe’s coil, the low-frequency end of the
this probe head is held within a specified orientation and bandwidth might be as low as 0.5 Hz or as high as 1.2 kHz.
proximity to an AC current carrying conductor, the probe For probes with bandwidths that begin near DC, a Hall Effect
outputs a linear voltage that is of known proportion to the device can be added to the probe design to detect DC. The
current in the conductor. This current-related voltage can be result is an AC/DC probe with a bandwidth that starts at DC
displayed as a current-scaled waveform on an oscilloscope. and extends to the specified upper frequency 3 dB point.
The bandwidth for AC current probes depends on the design This type of probe requires, at minimum, a power source for
of the probe’s coil and other factors. Bandwidths as high biasing the Hall Effect device used for DC sensing.
as a few GHz are possible. However, bandwidths under Depending on the probe design, a current probe amplifier
100 MHz are more typical. may also be required for combining and scaling the AC and
DC levels to provide a single output waveform for viewing on
an oscilloscope. 19

When the measurement is in essence as a closely coupled transformer. This product is defined for the added turns.8 also illustrates a particular class of probe referred the pulse width. The windings of this type of probe the core material of the probe’s coil goes into saturation. depending on measuring very fast. As a result. The advantage of this type of conductor (N1) induces a current in the AC probe’s coil (N2). the sensed current con. Split-core current probes are by far the most common Transformer basics can be taken advantage of to increase type. ductor is a one-turn winding (N1). This insertion to its circuit.8. the single turn of a current carrying that closes the top of the “U”. The chief advantages of solid-core probes is that impedance is frequency dependent with it’s 1-MHz value they offer small size and very high frequency response for typically being in the range of 30 to 500 MΩ .com/accessories .8. to as a split core probe. Figure 2. as shown in Figure 2. When the amp-second product is exceeded. the small insertion signals. Probes are also available with solid-core current transformers. multiple times.tektronix. equations.Primer Figure 2. and then reconnecting the conductor the conductor as a series insertion impedance. However. low amplitude current pulses and AC the specific probe.7.7. An example of a split core AC current probe. For most cases. and three loops triples the sensitivity. For standard operation. Through AC transformer action. Looping n turns of the con- ductor through the probe increases effective snesitivity n times. The current from this single These transformers completely encircle the conductor being winding transforms to a multi-winding (N2) probe output measured. the probe’s impedance is transformed back to through the transformer. Two loops doubles depending on the amp-second product. impedance of a current probe imposes a negligible load. These are available in both AC and AC/DC versions. This concept is completed the slide can be retracted and the probe can illustrated in Figure 2. The amp-second product defines the maximum limit for linear this also increases the insertion impedance by the square of operation of any current probe. feeding the conductor same time. probe sensitivity by looping the conductor through the probe and there are various current-per-division display ranges. are on a “U” shaped core that is completed with a ferrite slide Since a saturated core cannot handle any more current- 20 www. At the ing the conductor to be measured. current pulses as the average current amplitude multiplied by Figure 2. resulting in a current probe is that the ferrite slide can be retracted to allow the proportional voltage acros the probe’s termination (Rterm). they must be installed by disconnect- voltage that is proportional to the turns ratio (N2/N1). the sensitivity. which includes the basic transformer be moved to another conductor. probe to be conveniently clipped onto the conductor whose It’s important to keep in mind that a current probe operates current is to be measured.

possible analog causes of digital faults.10 Logic probes for a mixed signal oscilloscope (MSO) simplify digital connectivity to your device. Additionally. The result is that Analyzing the analog attributes of digital waveforms requires waveform peaks are essentially “clipped off” in areas where use of an oscilloscope. custom grounds for connecting to the device-under-test. Through the phenomenon The particular probe shown in Figure 21 . under-test. be added to most oscilloscopes through use of a word some active current probes provide a bucking current. When ingly wide selection of current probes. The recognizer trigger or a digital probe connected to a mixed bucking current is set by sensing the current level in the con. and regular probes offer outstanding electrical characteristics with mini- old analog noise and crosstalk are but a few of the many mal capacitive loading. insertion impedance. Choosing a current a matching word is recognized.tektronix. pulse amplitude aberrations. Figure 2. Such logic triggering can saturation and effectively extend the current measuring range. signal oscilloscope. channel probes (16 data bits plus qualifier). sensitivity ranges. the probe outputs a Hi (one) probe for a particular application is similar in many respects trigger pulse that can be used to trigger oscilloscope to selecting voltage probes. However. This requires Core saturation can also be caused by high levels of direct a logic triggering capability that is more typical of a logic current through the conductor being sensed. current handling capability must be channel pods. ABCs of Probes Figure 2. and is compatible with both synchronous and asynchronous operation. Current handling capability. Such probes allow oscilloscopes to be used to analyze specific data waveforms during specific logic conditions. induced flux. It can provide up to 17 data- can be adjusted to keep the core from going into saturation. from DC to MHz there’s a correspond. the amp-second product is exceeded. to isolate exact causes. digital designers often need to look at specific data pulses occurring during specific logic conditions. the actual cause of the logic fault that attaches to the probe head extending the probe ground is often due to the analog attributes of the digital waveform. Each channel ends with a probe tip featuring derated with frequency and the probe’s specified amp. manually setting miniature switches on the probe head. there can no longer be constant proportionality between current input and voltage output. The coax on the first channel of each pod is colored blue making it easy to identify. A word recognizer probe. ductor under test and then feeding an equal but opposite current back through the probe. you can use an adapter isolating fault occurrences. the bucking current and TTL-compatible logic. The trig- Because of the wide range of current measuring needs from ger word to be recognized is programmed into the probe by milliamps to kiloamps. These Pulse width jitter. flush with the probe tip so you can attach to a header. The common ground Logic Probes uses an automotive style connector making it easy to create Faults in digital systems can occur for a variety of reasons. www. a recessed ground for simplified connection to the device- second product must not be exceeded. acquisition of related data waveforms or events.9 is designed for TTL that opposing currents are subtractive. To combat core analyzer than an oscilloscope. While a logic analyzer is the primary tool for identifying and When connecting to square pins. connectability. and bandwidth/rise time limits are some of the key selection The logic probe shown in Figure 2.10 offers two eight- criteria.

11. In this motor drive system. and the signal “common” may The optical probe is an optical-to-electrical converter. the standard. causing even more measurement difficulty. optical side. Probing stations and articulated arms (Figure 2. phase AC line is rectified to a floating DC bus of up to there’s also a variety of specialty probes and probing 600 V. however. which are used to measure the tem- perature of components and other heat generating items. system analyzers have been developed to fill the needs of and. An example of a typical floating measurement situation is Other Probe Types shown in Figure 2. motor drives. floating measurements can be made using communication system troubleshooting and analysis.tektronix. probe-to-oscilloscope matching criteria are followed. With the advent and spread of fiber-optic based communica.Primer Figure 2. Example of a probing station designed for probing small geometry devices such as hybrid circuits and ICs. in fact. the probe must be selected to match the specific these measurements require rejection of high common-mode optical connector and fiber type or optical mode of the device signals in order to evaluate low-level signals riding on them. These include: modulated gate drive signals through an isolated driver to Environmental . making floating measurements a necessity. differential probes. which are designed to operate over the bridge transistors. causing each output to swing the a very wide temperature range. the term “floating measurement” is used optical waveform measurement and analysis during optical in referring to power system measurements. there’s also an expanding need for general-purpose Generally.11) for probing fine-pitch devices such as multi-chip-modules. you’re right. Accurate 22 www. On the electrical side.12. full bus voltage at the pulse modulation frequency. at ground (earth potential).12. and uninterruptible fill this need by allowing optical signals to be viewed on an power sources where neither point of the measurement is oscilloscope. A variety of specialized optical A floating measurement is a differential measurement. Extraneous ground currents can also add hum to the display. How. ever. ballasts. and ICs. there’s a rapidly expanding need for viewing and previously with regard to differential probes. hybrid circuits. The ground-referenced control circuit generates pulse systems. Often. analyzing optical waveforms. On the be elevated (floating) to hundreds of volts from ground. all points are above the ground. If this sounds a lot like differential measurements described tions. Examples are component development and verification. Temperature probes. neither of which is at ground potential. that’s being measured. Optical probes switching supplies. Floating Measurements Floating measurements are measurements that are made Optical Probes between two points. the three In addition to all of the above “fairly standard” probe types. In this three-phase motor drive. Figure 2.

14b shows the results of the same measure- two or more channels with independent reference leads. These include multi-channel isolators that provide Figure 2. Danger measurement of the gate-to-emitter voltage requires rejection To get around this direct short to ground. but the measurement can be made differential probes. but this time made with the oscilloscope properly Also.tektronix.14a transmits the differential signal through the isolator to a is the low-side gate-emitter voltage and the top trace is receiver. ment. age is a key specification for isolation systems. This allows the oscil- the rotating motor contribute to a harsh EMI environment. the probe isolator Not only is “floating” the oscilloscope an unsafe floats just the probe. and the differential signal is applied to measurement of one of the gate-to-emitter voltages on the tip and reference lead of the isolated probe.14a. Rather than floating the oscilloscope. The bottom trace in Figure 2. This ringing is due to the large probe isolator compatible with virtually any instrument. and proximity to the oscilloscope’s ground circuit. The isolator the motor drive unit.13. some oscillo- of the bus transitions. fiber-optic based isolators are available for cases where grounded and the measurement made through a probe the isolator needs to be physically separated from the instru- isolator. which shows a floated oscilloscope grounded. Figure 2. ABCs of Probes Figure 2. connecting the ground lead of a oscilloscope’s probe Unfortunately. This isolation of the probe can be done practice. www. Additionally. Not only has the ringing been eliminated from ment by long distances (e. fast current transitions. parasitic capacitance from the oscilloscope’s chassis to To meet different needs. Example of probe isolation for making floating measurements. the oscilloscope remains in Figure 2. Additionally. Notice the significant ringing on proportional to the differential input signal. or deadly shock hazard to the oscilloscope user.14. but the resulting measurements are often via either a transformer or optical coupling mechanism.13. this is 600 V RMS or 850 V (DC+peak AC). floating an oscilloscope can result in significant ringing on measurements (a) as compared to the safer method of using a probe isolator (b). this practice also allows the oscilloscope to any part of the motor drive circuit would cause a short to chassis to float at potentials that could be a dangerous ground. Also. In addition to being dangerous.g. In this case. Typically. This is illustrated shown in Figure 2. As with the 23 . 100 meters or more). the compact design of scope users have used the unsafe practice of defeating the motor drive. various types of isolators are earth ground. the key isolator selection criteria are in far greater safety because the oscilloscope is no bandwidth and CMRR. loscope’s ground lead to float with the motor drive circuit so that differential measurements can be made. as impaired by noise and other effects. maximum working volt- longer floating above ground. available. which produces a ground-referenced signal that is the high-side voltage. This makes the both of these traces. as it should.

facturer often have an extremely broad selection of acces- Also. less expensive commodity Probes that are designed for specific application areas. a compensation adjustment tool. Switching adaptors between probe models or probe manufacturers is not recommended since it can result in poor connection to the test point or damage to either the probe or probe adaptor. Figure 2. An example as options for the probe. may include additional other hand. vary It’s important to realize that most probe accessories. These accessories often include a ground lead clip that Such adapters make probing of small circuitry significantly easier and can enhance measurment accuracy by providing high integrity probe to test point connections. Figure 2. various special purpose accessories may be available sories for adapting the probe to special needs.Primer Figure 2. Figure 2.16 illustrates several types of this is shown in Figure 2. and one or more probe tip accessories to aid in attaching the probe to various test points. of course. On the as probing surface mount devices.15. Some examples of probe tip adapters for small geometry probes. These accessories and options will. and any adaptors or accessories that will make probing quicker and easier.tektronix. it’s also important to of a typical general purpose voltage probe and its standard take into account the type of circuitry that you’ll be probing accessories. Probe Accessories Most probes come with a package of standard accessories. are designed to work with specific probe models. probes. such probes don’t provide a selection of adaptor options. which illustrates the variety of probe tip adaptors designed for use with small geometry of accessories and options available for a particular class of probes.15 shows an example When selecting probes for purchase.16. 24 www. cially probe tip adaptors. probes obtained through an oscilloscope manu- probe tip adapters in their standard accessories package. In many cases. espe. A typical general-purpose voltage probe with its standard . attaches to the probe. between different probe classes and models.

com/accessories 25 . ABCs of Probes Figure 2. www. An example of the various accessories that are available for a 5-mm (miniature) probe system.tektronix. Other probe families will have differing accessories depending on the intended application for that family of probes.17.

or rise time. as always. it doesn’t stop there. the focus has been on what happens when you connect a probe to a test point. is to select the probe that Make sure that the bandwidth. the probe selection process should include consideration of your measurement needs. the signal source. This is important because the probe to the circuit before you can make a measurement. Similarly. different oscilloscopes are designed for different bandwidth. have important frequency components or harmonics that The oscilloscope imposes certain requirements extend well above the fundamental frequency of the signal. a 10 MΩ probe with 20 pF or less capaci- applications and needs.tektronix. that must also be considered as part of the For example. for some high-speed digital circuits you selection a confusing process. Always keep in mind that non-sinusoidal signals the oscilloscope. you need a measurement system with a bandwidth of 500 MHz at the probe tip. square wave. capabilities requires a probe that matches the oscilloscope’s design considerations. 10X or higher probe. the various types of probes. For the most part. to fully include the 5th harmonic of a 100 MHz probe selection process. keep in mind that you must be able to attach recommendations for probes. What are you The preceding chapters have covered a wide range of trying to measure? Voltages? Current? An optical signal? topics regarding oscilloscope probes in terms of how probes By selecting a probe that is appropriate to your signal type. there’s also a broad selection of tance should provide ample insurance against signal source oscilloscope probes on the market. Look for high-resistance. at the probe tip delivers the best representation of the signal to exceeds the signal frequencies or rise times that you plan to measure. always follow the oscilloscope manufacturer’s And finally. probe head size and probe tip adaptors to allow easy and Taking full advantage of the oscilloscope’s measurement convenient circuit attachment. measurements. low-capacitance probes. this will be through attenuation with a probe selection.Primer A Guide to Probe Selection Additionally. This may require special selection considerations about rise time. This can make probe loading. Generally. 26 www. the focus changes to the signal source and If not. For Because of the wide range of oscilloscope measurement most applications. oscilloscope system’s rise time should be three to five times beginning with understanding the requirements imposed by faster than the signal rise times that you plan to measure. and their effects on you can get direct measurement results faster. you’ll need to select a probe that can adjust dynamic how to translate its properties into criteria for appropriate range. To cut through much of the confusion and narrow the selec- tion . Also. The goal. However. However. your This chapter explores the various selection requirements. and input impedance considerations. sensitivity. function. may need to move to the lower tip capacitance offered by active probes. And always take into account possible signal loading by the Choosing the Right Probe probe. Are they within the dynamic range of your oscilloscope? In this chapter. consider the amplitudes of the signals you are measur- ing.

since the signal frequency content. That accounts for the There are four fundamental signal source issues to be voltage-sensing probe as being the most common type of considered in selecting a probe. While a logic signal can be viewed with a standard Voltage Signals voltage probe. it’s more often the case that a specific logic Current Signals event needs to be viewed. www. which transforms a current signal into a voltage The first step in probe selection is to assess the type signal for viewing on an 27 . Understanding the Signal Source Voltage signals are the most commonly encountered signal type in electronic measurements. Each of these issues is types of oscilloscope probes are. other physical attributes of the test point. oscilloscope probe.1. This can be done by setting a Logic Signals logic probe to provide a trigger signal to the oscilloscope Other Signals when a specified logic combination occurs. ABCs of Probes Signal Type Current Voltage Logic Other Current Probes Voltage Probes Logic Probes Transducers Active Passive Active Passive Active Active Passive AC DC AC Differential Voltage Divider Logic Trigger Optical Temperature High Sensitivity High Impedance Word Recognizer Vibration High Impedance High Voltage Logic Analysis Acoustic. and the oscilloscopes require a voltage signal at their input. of signal to be probed. in essence. it should be noted that. Various probe categories based on the signal type to be measured. Also. These are the signal type. This allows specific logic events to be viewed on the oscilloscope display. For this purpose.tektronix. etc. Differential Figure 3. signals can be categorized as being: Logic signals are actually a special category of voltage signals. transducers covered in the following discussion. A common example of this is the current probe. that convert the sensed phenomenon to a corresponding Signal Type voltage signal. the source impedance.

and the harmonics combine with the funda. At the 3-dB point. 7fo.2). since the higher harmonics are still present at least to some degree. Signal Frequency Content All signals. Notice that under each category there are various probe subcategories that are further determined by additional signal attributes as well as oscilloscope requirements. there are numerous other types of signals that may be of interest. and other sources. with minimum disturbance. Figure 3. The fundamental is the foundation of ment system bandwidth (a). have frequency content. The higher harmonics seen as a rounding of sharp corners and a slowing of fast will also be passed. this generally means that the probe frequency components of a signal that extend beyond bandwidth needs to be three to five times higher than the the probe’s bandwidth will experience a higher degree of signal’s fundamental frequency. However. the transducer becomes the signal source for the purposes of selecting a probe to convey the transducer signal to the oscilloscope. waveform transitions (see Figure 3. the lower the overall signal bandwidth to pass the signal’s major frequency components amplitude seen at the probe output. they experience a higher degree of attenuation. a symmetrical square wave has a fundamental frequency (fo) that’s the reciprocal of the square wave’s period and addition- al harmonic frequencies that are odd multiples of the funda.2. DC signals have a frequency of 0 Hz. amplitude. 28 www. Various transducers can be used to convert such signals to corresponding voltage signals for oscilloscope display and measurement. For example. but with increasing amounts of attenua. they’re still able to contribute somewhat to the waveform’s structure. All other signals contain multiple frequencies whose values depend upon the signals waveshape.. the probe must have enough to the probe’s 3-dB bandwidth. The result is loss of waveform detail through rounding of corners and lengthening the waveshape. and logic signals. 5fo. those harmonics or other other periodic signals. regardless of their type. Also.1 provides a graphical categorization of probes based on the type of signal to be measured. The result of and the first few harmonics to be passed without undue higher attenuation on higher frequency components may be attenuation of their relative amplitudes.. of transitions (b). current. These can include signals from optical. The closer a signal’s fundamental frequency is taining adequate signal fidelity. This allows the fundamental attenuation because of the bandwidth roll-off. acoustic.Primer In addition to voltage. Figure 3. mechanical. When major frequency components of a signal are beyond the measure- mental (3fo. . The primary effect of bandwidth limiting is to reduce signal For a probe to convey a signal to an oscilloscope while main.). In the case of square waves and amplitude is down 30%. thermal. When this is . and pure sinusoids have a single frequency that is the reciprocal of the sinusoid’s period.tektronix. mental to add structural detail such as the waveshape’s transitions and corners. tion since these higher harmonics are beyond the probe’s 3-dB bandwidth point.

The discussion of source impedance can be distilled down to The goal is to select probe sizes. tance. also referred to as input capaci. most oscilloscope manufacturers specify titled “Different Probes for Different Needs” for more detail oscilloscope bandwidth and rise time to the probe tip for regarding signal source impedance and the effects of its specific probe models designed for use with specific interaction with probe impedance. Probe tip capacitance. and that are adequate for the signals to be examined. Is it enough to just touch the probe to the test point and observe the signal on Input Resistance and Capacitance the oscilloscope. However. If the probe doesn’t match the oscilloscope. limit signal transition rise times. Refer to the section complexity. and acces- the following key points: sories that best fit your particular application. When the probe impedance is substantially greater than the signal source impedance. RscopeCscope = RprobeCprobe = Optimum Signal Transfer www. this has to do with Standard size probes and accessories are fine for probing signal source impedance and signal source loading.2 x Rsource x Cprobe oscilloscope used should have bandwidth and rise time specifications that equal or exceed those of the probe used From the above points. probe loading In general. the oscilloscope end of the probe. oscilloscopes. are the next topics of discussion. smaller probes with accessories designed for surface mount applications are Signal Source Impedance recommended. selection as signal source issues. This is due to the time required to charge the input Bandwidth and Rise Time capacitance of the probe from the 10% to 90% level. has some effect on signal amplitude and signal rise times. a key consideration in probe selection. low-capacitance probes are the best choice for minimizing probe loading of the signal source. the effect of the probe on Oscilloscope issues have as much bearing on probe signal amplitude is negligible. the tr = 2. It’s important to realize that the oscilloscope and its which is given by: probes act together as a measurement 29 .tektronix. To ensure adequate oscilloscope system bandwidth and rise time for the signals that you plan to Physical Connection Considerations examine. The probe’s impedance combines with the signal source quick. Thus. for probing surface mount circuitry. it’s best to follow the oscilloscope manufacturer’s The location and geometry of signal test points can also be probe recommendations. and back planes. geometries. Because of this signal test points whenever possible. a scope must match the R and C presented by the probe’s needle-style probe tip is appropriate. easy. signal fidelity will be impaired at 3. resistor leads. it’s clear that high-impedance. the bandwidth and rise time interactions between effects can be further minimized by selecting low-impedance probes and oscilloscopes are complex. However. and solid connection of probes to test points impedance to create a new signal load impedance that for reliable measurements. which connector pins. attached to the test point for signal monitoring while making For maximum signal transfer the input R and C of the oscillo- various circuit adjustments? For the former situation. or will it be necessary to leave the probe All oscilloscopes have input resistance and input capacitance. Understanding the Oscilloscope 2. ABCs of Probes It should also be noted that probe tip capacitance can also The size of the test point can also impact probe selection. Also. has the effect of stretching a signal’s rise time. This allows 1. while the latter situation output as follows: requires some kind of retractable hook tip.

As a result. the first amplifier system. 30 www. This typically is a differential amplifier. always follow the manufacturer’s can be remedied by appropriate probe selection for the recommendations and observe all precautions.Primer More specifically. this shortcoming the probe system.05 mV to 150 V. Attaching the probe to a voltage in excess Probe-to-oscilloscope capacitances must be matched as of those capabilities may result in personal injury as well well. For example. are designed to match specific oscilloscope models. For example. Failing to properly match a probe to the oscilloscope – both through proper probe selection and proper compensa. Caution A 1 MΩ oscilloscope can also be used with a 50 Ω probe Always observe the probe’s maximum specified voltage when the appropriate 50 Ω adapter is used. the components that may be damaged by overvoltages. before connecting any probe to a signal make sure that the signal doesn’t exceed the probe’s maximum voltage capabilities. 50 Ω oscilloscope inputs require 50 Ω probes. Such probe amplifier systems are highly specialized and tion adjustment – can result in significant measurement errors. various signals that you’ll be dealing with. it gives you a top-end oscilloscope display range of 1000 . it’s important in making an oscilloscope selection Sensitivity to always check the manufacturer’s list of recommended The oscilloscope’s vertical sensitivity range determines the accessories for available differential probe systems that overall dynamic range for signal amplitude measurement. it’s possible to extend the range of matching by compensating for minor capacitance variations. and 1 MΩ oscilloscope inputs require 1 MΩ probes. meet your small-signal application requirements. use with specific oscilloscope models. base dynamic range of the example oscilloscope falls short including static discharges. a 10X probe effectively shifts the oscilloscope’s sensitivity range upward by a decade. To avoid damage to at both the low and high ends. the oscilloscope’s dynamic range can be extended upwards by using attenuator probes. This is done through selection of probes designed for as damage to equipment. capabilities. many probes have a compensation adjustment to allow precise For low-amplitude signals. the oscilloscope to lower sensitivities through use of a probe Whenever a probe is attached to an oscilloscope. an oscilloscope with a 10-division vertical display range and a sensitivity range from 1 mV/division to 10 V/division has a practical vertical dynamic range from Caution around 0.tektronix. For high-amplitude signals.1 mV to 100 V. Additionally. which would be 10 mV/division to 100 V/division for the example oscilloscope. which thing that should be done is to adjust the probe’s compensa- could provide a sensitivity of 10 µV/division for example. However. If the various signals that you intend Differential probe systems often contain sensitive to measure range in amplitude from 0. Not only does this provide adequate range for your 150-volt signals. tion. However.

if oscilloscope input C – are not always specified. reflect that by adjusting the vertical readout by a 10X factor. There are only “right” oscilloscopes. etc. it’s always best to select an oscilloscope Or if you’re using a current probe. To avoid guesswork. the selection a 10X probe is used. optical. this means following the manufactur- And finally. For example. it’s important oscilloscope for newly introduced probes that may extend to use probes that are compatible with the oscilloscope’s your oscilloscope’s capabilities. In fact. since probe sensing and readout processing so that the readout some key selection criteria – such as probe rise time and properly tracks the type of probe being used. it’s clear that selecting the right probe can be a and seconds/division). Also. keep in mind that there really is no “right” probe er’s recommendations regarding probe usages with specific selection for any given application. you’ll be able to specify the oscilloscope and various compatible probes that will meet all of your application needs. This is especially important for newer oscillo- oscilloscope/probe combination selections.tektronix. be sure to check with the manufacturer of your To take advantage of such readout capability. minimum) Test point geometries (leaded component. when you encounter new measurement proper units of measurement.) By considering the above issues and filling in the blanks with information specific to your applications. etc. ABCs of Probes Readout Capability Selecting the Right Probe Most modern oscilloscopes provide on-screen readouts of From all of the preceding signal source and oscilloscope their vertical and horizontal sensitivity settings (volts/division issues. Often these oscilloscopes also provide daunting process without some assistance. www. and they rely on scopes which may have advanced readout features that may first defining your signal measurement requirements in terms not be fully supported by many generic or commodity of: probes. Again. the oscilloscope should appropriately process may be reduced to guesswork in some cases. readout 31 . surface mount. current. the vertical readout is that includes a wide selection of probes in the recommended changed from volts/division to amps/division to reflect the accessories list. requirements. Type of signal (voltage.) Signal frequency content (bandwidth issues) Signal rise time Source impedance (R and C) Signal amplitudes (maximum.

where the circuitry This chapter explores loading effects. Zi. draw by the measurement system (b). The signal being measured at the test point (TP) can be represented by Figure 4. source impedances. Probing the test point adds probing. How Probes Affect Your Depending on the relative values of the Measurements impedances. TP. the probe impedance. the impedances are all equal and probing causes a more than the probe and oscilloscope impedances to the source load. the greater the loading caused by a signal source and associated load impedances (a). The higher the source impedances. some portion of the signal must be diverted to the oscilloscope’s input loading effects. and the associated circuit impedances. the loading effect of a typical high- impedance 10X probe would be hardly noticeable. is represented by a signal source.1.1. Zp. This is because a high impedance added in parallel with a low impedance produces no significant change in total . addition of the probe and oscilloscope to the test point causes various To obtain an oscilloscope display of a signal. For example. circuit. become part of the load on the signal the net effect of any probe loading. 32 www.tektronix. Es. Zs1 and Zs2. in detail. as well as other behind the test point. that are the normal load on Es. and oscilloscope The value of the source impedance can significantly influence input impedance.Primer Figure 4. This is illustrated in Figure 4.2. resulting in some current 30% reduction in signal amplitude at the test point. with low source. In this case. probing effects. When an oscilloscope is attached The Effect of Source Impedance to the test point.

2RC 10 MΩ and 11 pF of a typical probe have been added.3. or drains. The added capacitance of a probe increases RC the value and increases the measured rise 33 .5ES at the unprobed test point. the story changes dramatically with higher source impedances. a. However. The rise time of a pulse generator is determined by its RC load. Effect on Rise Time To illustrate capacitive loading. and sources usually have lower impedances than plates. the total load on the source becomes 1.tektronix. value is the fastest rise time that the pulse can have. The other is to probe the signal somewhere else in the circuit at a test point that has a lower impedance. cathodes. two-thirds of its unprobed value. In this latter case.4. the case where the source impedances in Figure 4. However.4. where the impedance results in a pulse rise time of 2. This situation is illustrated in Figure 4. One approach is to use a higher impedance probe. there are two approaches that can be taken to reduce the impedance loading effects of probing. This is shown in Figure 4.5Z. This 2. constant curve of a capacitor.2a). Figure 4. where the pulse at the ideal generator’s output has a rise time of zero (tr = 0). The value of 2. ABCs of Probes However. for example. For example. and that value equals the total of the probe and oscilloscope impedances. the probe’s resistance www. when the probe and oscilloscope are attached (Figure 4. Consider.2b). Consequently. the 50 Ω and 20 pF of the source pulse generator. the capacitive element of the impedances becomes predominate.2 is the number of RC time constants necessary for C to charge through R When the pulse generator’s output is probed. input capacitance and resistance are added to that of the In the case of Figure 4. capacitive loading will affect the rise and fall times on fast-transition waveforms and the amplitudes of high-frequency components in waveforms.3. capacitive loading becomes a matter of increasing concern.1 have the same value. This results in a signal amplitude of 0. For equal values of Z. and the signal amplitude at the test point is reduced to Figure 4. In particular. b.2RC. the probe’s from the 10% value to the 90% amplitude value of the pulse. the source load is 2Z without the probe and oscilloscope attached to the test point (see Figure 4. collectors. The RC integration network always produces a 10 to 90% rise time of 2.3. Since the probe’s 10 MΩ resistance is so much greater than the generator’s 50 Ω resistance. This is shown in Figure 4. Capacitive Loading As signal frequencies or transition speeds increase.2 ns.2. This is derived from the universal time. let’s consider a pulse genera- tor with a very fast rise time. emitters. tance of the source impedance load. this zero rise time is modified through integration by the associated resistance and capaci.

it’s clear that probe choice. the greater the attenuation ratio.2RC and results in an increase in the measured rise time to 3. but Rp doesn’t start rolling off significantly until In addition to affecting rise time. capacitive. Figure 4. although for various passive probes. the probe’s capacitance is in parallel with the load capacitance and adds to it directly for a total load capacitance of 31 pF. With regard to this. Probe Tip Capacitance and inductive elements. This was done by careful design of the probe’s associated resistive. C. tip capacitances of 1 pF and less are available. it is important to If you don’t have access to a probe’s impedance curves. Where smaller tip capacitance is needed. keep in mind that all waveforms are composed of sinusoidal you can make a worst-case loading estimate using the components. inductive elements may be designed into the probe to partial- ly offset capacitive loading. Probe Attenuation Tip Capacitance As a rule.4 this would result in the following estimate of percentage change in rise time: Cprobe tip/C1 x 100% =11 pF/20 pF x 100% = 55% From the above. You can estimate the effect of probe tip capacitance on rise time by taking the ratio of the probe’s specified capacitance to the known or estimated source capacitance. Most probe P6101B 1X 100 pF instruction manuals document probe Rp with curves showing P6109B 10X 13 pF Zp versus frequency. the total loading has been offset by careful affects the amplitude and phase of the high-frequency com. and Zp is composed of a C = probe tip capacitance 34 www. Zp decreases with increasing frequency. can affect your rise time meas- urements. Typical input impedance versus frequency for an active probe. active FET-input Figure 4.1. and reactive component Xp. The dotted line (Xp) shows capacitive reactance versus frequency.5 is an example of such a curve for a typical active probe. Notice that the 1 MΩ impedance P5100 100X 2.tektronix.2 ns previous to probing. The ed in Table 4.6 shows another example of a probe curve. This increases the value of 2. However.75 pF magnitude is constant to nearly 100 kHz. In probes should be used. capacitive loading also 100 kHz. regard to probe capacitance.Primer can be ignored. Thus. Table 4. For passive probes.5. and L elements. resistive component. Using the values from Figure . This is designated as Zp. where: ples above the fundamental. This is indicat. it’s Xp = 1/2π fC important to not only consider loading effects at a waveform’s fundamental frequency but also at frequencies several multi. Notice that Xp begins decreasing Effect on Amplitude and Phase at DC. ponents in a waveform. the lower the tip capacitance in general. especially with Figure 4. Rp. Xp = capacitive reactance Loading is determined by the total impedance at the probe f = frequency tip. Again. design of the associated R.1 which lists some probe capacitance examples reactive component is predominantly capacitive.4 ns versus the 2. A 50 MHz square wave will have harmonic following formula: components of significance beyond 100 MHz. Depending on the specific active this case Rp and Xp versus frequency are shown for a typical probe model. 10 MΩ passive probe.

Bandwidth Considerations Bandwidth is a measurement system issue that involves both the bandwidth of the probe and the oscilloscope. a 100 MHz oscilloscope will have up to a 30% ampli- frequency plot where the measurement system is 3 dB down tude error at 100 MHz. you should be prepared to derate the oscillo- Consequently. From a measurement system perspective. be derated by a factor of 0.8.7 which to be within 3%. down in amplitude at its rated bandwidth. This means that The above example points out a general rule of thumb for you can expect 30% error in amplitude measurements for oscilloscope selection. 3%. Often. issues of an oscilloscope and a probe. though. The oscilloscope’s bandwidth should exceed the predominate frequencies of the signals you want to measure. Figure 4. ABCs of Probes Figure 4. consider the expanded view of bandwidth in combination. and the bandwidth of the probe used should equal or exceed the bandwidth of the oscilloscope.7. and it could even affect the operation of the circuit being probed. Anything beyond It’s important to note that the measurement system is 3 dB 30 MHz will have an amplitude error in excess of 3%. the real concern is the bandwidth at the probe tip. However. importance.8. Bandwidth is defined as the frequency in the response curve where amplitude has decreased by -3 dB.tektronix. This is not always the case.3 to 30 35 . If you want amplitude measurements from the reference level. the bandwidth of this oscilloscope must shows a response curve with the 3 dB point indicated. For amplitude measurements within frequencies at the bandwidth limit.0). this loading could have a major effect on the signal amplitude (by simple divider action). both individually and As an example.6. Bandwidth derating curve. For example. This is illustrated in Figure 4. a standard passive 10 MΩ probe with a tip capacitance of 11 pF has a capacitive reactance (Xp) of about 290 Ω at 50 MHz. if amplitude accuracy is of paramount probe combinations. www. Depending on the signal source imped- ance. roll-off shown in Figure 4. The horizontal scale in this figure Oscilloscope Bandwidth shows the derating factor necessary to obtain amplitude accuracies better than 30%. Xp and Rp versus frequency for a typical 10 MΩ passive probe. Figure 4. select an oscilloscope with a specified bandwidth that’s three to five times greater than the highest frequency waveform that you’ll be measuring. manufacturers will Usually you won’t be using an oscilloscope at its full band- specify bandwidth at the probe tip for certain oscilloscope/ width limit. With no derating (a factor of Bandwidth is defined as the point on an amplitude versus 1. you should be aware of the major bandwidth scope’s bandwidth accordingly.

When rise time or fall time are the measurements of primary As a rule. 1X probe.tektronix. b. the pulse’s observed rise time specified by their bandwidth. probe was used on the same pulse.Primer a. Here the rise time has Similarly. This is illustrated further in Figure 4. was made Tr (nanoseconds) ≈ 350/BW (MHz) using a matched 400 MHz oscilloscope and probe combina- As with bandwidth.9. 10 MHz at the 100 MHz point. specification to a rise time specification with the following Using a probe of lesser bandwidth will limit the oscilloscope formula: to less than its full measurement capability. An bandwidth will have an amplitude response that is 3 dB down extreme case is shown in Figure 4. probe bandwidth can also be expressed in terms slowed from the original 4.63 ns to 27 ns. Note that the pulse rise time rise time that you expect to measure. the oscilloscope and Just any probe will not do! probe rise times can be combined by the following formula to obtain an approximate probe/oscilloscope system rise time: To get maximum performance from any oscilloscope – the performance that you paid for – be sure to use the manufac- Trsystem2 ≈ Trprobe2 + Trscope2 turer’s recommended probes. probes are typically ranked or As would be expected.9b. All measurements were made with the same 400 MHz . This is shown in Figure 4. a probe with a 100 MHz becomes even longer with a lower bandwidth probe. and (c) 10 MHz. probe bandwidth should always equal or exceed interest.9 is: (Tr ≈ 0. where the measured rise time is now Probe Bandwidth 5. Now look what happens when a 10X. And. you should select an oscilloscope with tion. where a 1X. Thus. (It should be noted was measured as 4. shown in Figure 4. of rise time by the same formula used for oscilloscopes The key point made by Figure 4. that the oscilloscope’s response has a Gaussian roll-off. which shows the same pulse transition Tr ≈ 0. 10X probe. c.9.9c. That’s nearly a 30% increase over the previous All probes. For passive probes.) to measure the same pulse with the same oscilloscope. for active probes.35/BW). 10X probe. Also. like other electronic circuits. 100 MHz probe is used Most oscilloscopes are designed to have a Gaussian roll-off. Figure 4. have a bandwidth measurement of 4.63 ns! limit.63 ns. like oscilloscopes.97 ns. and the above formula should not be used.35/BW being measured with three probes of different bandwidths. Effects on rise time of three different probes: (a) 400 MHz. the relationship is more complex.9a. (b) 100 MHz. or. you can convert an oscilloscope’s bandwidth (BW) the bandwidth of the oscilloscope that it will be used with. The probe used was a 10X probe with 10 MΩ resist- a rise time that’s three to five time greater than the fastest ance and 14.1 pF capacitance. 36 www. This is well within the 875 ps rise that the above bandwidth to rise time conversion assumes time range of the 400 MHz oscilloscope/probe combination. for convenience: The first measurement.

These limits plugged into the same power outlet circuit. Ground Lead Effects Figure 4. Consequently it should not be relied on as a For example. nections to the circuit or device under test are necessary.5 ns or faster. a Tektronix return path through the power grounds is typically indirect probe extends the oscilloscope’s bandwidth to the probe tip. adaptors for established test points. you should use the shortest possible grounding path. when making any kind of oscilloscope measure- compatible 100 MHz oscilloscope. a Tektronix 100 MHz probe provides 100 MHz clean. the displayed rise time should be 3. the power circuit provides a ground return path. for example. somewhat less than optimum response and bandwidth should be expected in real-world use — especially when measuring higher impedance circuits. and swept bandwidth. www. For a 100 MHz When making ground-referenced measurements.35/BW). the common of include total aberrations.5 ns rise time corresponds to a connection to the test point for the most reliable oscilloscope 100 MHz bandwidth according to the previously discussed measurements.10.11. This 3. low-inductive ground return. The test signal source is specified to be a The ECB adaptor allows you to plug the probe tip directly 50 Ω source terminated in 50 Ω . it’s important to remember that bandwidth at the probe tip is determined by the test method of Figure 4. This ground return is necessary following manufacturer’s specifications and recommenda. This latter requirement for probe connection For critical amplitude and timing measurements. Equivalent circuit for testing bandwidth to the probe tip. ment. Figure 4.10. the issues of probe bandwidth and resulting connection is a ground return through the oscilloscope and probe/oscilloscope system bandwidth should be resolved by back to the circuit under test. two con- system. The other necessary In general.5 ns. Tektronix. tions. to complete the measurement current path.tektronix. Not only does this clearly scope/probe combination should result in an observed rise indicate test point 37 .10. as shown in Figure 4. Additionally. ABCs of Probes However. performance (–3 dB) at the probe tip when used with a As a rule. and the outer barrel of the adaptor 25 Ω source termination. One connection is made via the probe which senses the volt- Bandwidth to the Probe Tip age or other parameter being measured. This signal Also. or its equivalent. bandwidth/rise time relationship (Tr ≈ 0. resulting in an equivalent into a circuit test point. The industry recognized test setup for verifying bandwidth The ultimate grounding system. it’s recom- ensures the shortest possible ground path. when used with a compatible oscilloscope. rise time. and lengthy. specifies the bandwidth over In cases where the circuit under test and the oscilloscope are which a probe will perform within specified limits. Since real-world signals rarely originate from 25 Ω sources. but it ensures the best possible time of < 3. a 100 MHz oscillo. Most manufacturers of general-purpose oscilloscopes that include standard accessory probes promise and deliver the advertised oscilloscope bandwidth at the probe tip. the probe must be makes a direct and short ground contact to the ground ring connected to the source by a probe-tip-to-BNC adaptor at the probe’s tip. mended that circuit board designs include ECB/probe-tip Using the above described test setup. is an in-circuit ECB (etched to the probe tip is illustrated by the equivalent circuit in circuit board) to probe-tip adapter.

notice that there’s an inductance (L) associated with the ground lead in the equivalent circuit shown in Figure 4. will limit the rise time of the Unfortunately. 200 . Equivalent circuit of a typical passive probe connected to a signal source.12. Also. but excessive ground-lead L will limit the charging circuit to Cin and.12. notice that the ground lead L and Cin forms a series resonant circuit with only Rin for damping. this under test. This ground-lead inductance increases with increasing lead length. the short ground lead that most probe manufactur. the ECB/probe-tip adaptor isn’t practical for pulse. 38 www. say test. many general-purpose measurement situations. Instead of Without going into the mathematics. there be ringing. This is far more convenient in that it allows you to ringing is well above the bandwidth of the oscilloscope and quickly move the probe from point to point in the circuit under may not be seen at all. the typical approach is to use a short with 6-inch ground lead will ring at about 140 MHz when ground lead that’s clipped to a grounding point in the circuit excited by a fast pulse. an 11 pF passive probe using an adaptor. But. Not only will Figure 4. it will ring. An ECB to probe-tip adaptor. thus. With a 100 MHz oscilloscope.Primer Figure 4. Also. display of the pulse. To set the stage for this. However. with a faster oscilloscope. the ground lead induced ringing will be well within ers supply with their probes provides an adequate ground the oscilloscope’s bandwidth and will be apparent on the return path for most measurement situations. When this series resonant circuit is hit with a pulse. it’s wise to be aware of the possible problems that can arise from improper grounding.

13. ABCs of Probes a. 28-inch clip lead Figure 4. c.13 illustrates ground lead induced ringing further. In this case. a separate. A shorter ground lead has less This time. the same pulse transition is acquired. this practice lengthens the ground bandwidth of the oscilloscope. practices have tremendous impact on measurement quality. length of your ground lead. try shortening the In Figure 4. Specifically. you’ll might be done. Shortening the ground ground clip each time different points are probed in a large lead further should move the ring frequency beyond the system. 28-inch probe ground tip.13b.13a. was used to acquire a fast transition. Ground lead length and placement can dramatically affect measurements. then the ringing is likely ening the ground loop. 28-inch clip to oscilloscope chassis. If you see ringing on a pulse display. This ground lead extension see the ringing frequency change on the pulse display. and apparently longer. Instead. to avoid having to move the know that it’s ground-lead related.tektronix. the probe’s standard ground lead was inductance and will cause a higher frequency ringing. and it was From the examples in Figure 4. thereby minimizing its effect loop and can cause severe ringing. a matched oscilloscope/probe combination This created a different.5-inch probe ground clip. In Figure 4. 39 .13. If you extended with a 28-inch clip lead.13c shows the results of another variation of length- you change ground-lead length. probe ground leads need to be kept as short and direct as possible. the probe’s ground lead being induced in the circuit under test.5-inch probe ground clip. Figure 4. as shown. it’s clear that grounding attached to a common near the test point. If the ringing doesn’t change when Figure 4. on your measurements. was the standard 6. b. wasn’t connected at all. 6. however. for example. The ground lead used resulting in the lower frequency ringing seen. ground loop. www. was run from the circuit common to the oscilloscope chassis.

and the oscillo. operating point. we’ve seen that the signal source impedance. because of their very high bandwidth/rise fastest rise time you plan to measure. Excessive ground loops can cause R should be taken into account. if your measurements fit within the range of an active probe. Typically. but at the you’re trying to measure. 1X probes are more prone to cause loading. this can be the best choice in many cases. with the capability of providing a variable offset voltage at the And finally. voltage divider probes are often used in other environments for high-speed timing measurements. you should select expense of relatively high resistive loading. Active Probes Active probes can provide the best of both worlds with very low resistive loading and very low tip capacitance. The trade- off is that active probes typically have a low dynamic range.tektronix. the probe. However. However. These probes are useful for probing high-speed effects on the circuit being probed. Select the probes that best match your application’s Bias-offset Probes needs in terms of both measurement capabilities and A bias-offset probe is a special type of voltage divider probe mechanical attachment to test points.Primer What to do About Probing Effects The following summarizes some of the probe loading considerations to be aware of: From the preceding examples and discussion. and whenever The following general rules apply: possible 10X probes should be used for general-purpose Always match your oscilloscope and probes according probing. They’re intended a oscilloscope/probe combination with a rise time for use where impedance matching is required in 50 Ω envi- specification that’s three to five times faster than the ronments. Passive Probes scope form an interactive system. As a result. ringing on pulses. For optimum measurement 1X passive probes typically have a lower resistance and results. loading ECL circuitry. In many cases. where resistive loading could upset the circuit’s can be controlled or minimized through probe selection. oscilloscope/probe affects on the signal source. the effect of the probe’s low input direct as possible. to the oscilloscope manufacturer’s . you need to do everything possible to minimize the higher capacitance than 10X passive probes. time capabilities. 40 www. For Always keep your probe ground leads as short and amplitude measurements. always be aware of the possible probe loading probe tip. Voltage Divider (Zo) Probes Make sure that your oscilloscope/probe has adequate bandwidth or rise time capabilities for the signal These probes have very low tip capacitance.

accuracy generally refers to the usually occur immediately after fast waveform transitions and probe’s attenuation of a DC signal. specification is only correct or applicable when the probe is This specification might also include a time window for the being used with an oscilloscope having the assumed input aberrations. aberrations For voltage-sensing probes. An example of measuring aberrations relative to 100% pulse height. Other specifications. be sure to consider all possible sources before specification parameters and terms into one assuming that the aberrations are the fault of the probe.tektronix. either in terms of probe types or in terms of how probes affect measurements. Insertion Impedance is a specification is neglecting to check and properly adjust the compensation that applies to current probes only.2. not all of these specifications will apply to any given One of the most common sources of observed aberrations probe. place for easier reference. or specified. For example. ABCs of Probes Figure 5.” measurements of probe accuracy generally should include Aberrations are measured. An aberration is any amplitude deviation from the expected Accuracy (universal) or ideal response to an input signal. result in significant peaks immediately following pulse edges Aberrations (universal) (see Figure 5.2). The calculations and appear as what’s sometimes referred to as “ringing. www. a probe’s accuracy deviation from the final pulse response level (see Figure 41 . Aberrations from over compensating a probe.1). of voltage probes. An example of this would be: resistance. are the aberrations actually part of the signal source? Or are they the result of the probe grounding The following list of specifications is presented in alphabetical technique? order. preceding chapters. An example accuracy specification would be: Aberrations should not exceed ±3% or 5% peak-to-peak 10X within 3% (for oscilloscope input of 1 MΩ ±2%) within the first 30 nanoseconds. as a ± percentage the oscilloscope’s input resistance. Understanding Probe Specifications Most of the key probe specifications have been discussed in Figure 5. When excessive aberrations are seen on a pulse measure- This chapter gathers all of those key probe ment. Thus. In practice.1. For example. are universal and apply to all probes. A severely over-compensated probe will such as bandwidth.

AC current greater amplitude to be measured. 10X. Typical attenuation All probes have bandwidth. The readout systems on This system performance is what ultimately determines today’s oscilloscopes automatically sense probe attenuation measurement capability. attaching a probe to factors and adjust the scale factor readouts accordingly. a 100X probe allows signals of 100 times with AC current probes. Attenuation Factor (universal) Bandwidth (universal) All probes have an attenuation factor.3. If the amp-second attenuation factors typically have higher input resistances. This is the case. A 10 MHz probe has a 10 MHz factors are 1X. bandwidth. 100X designations stem from the days when low frequency and one for high frequency. probes cannot pass DC or low-frequency signals. amp-second product specifies the energy Figure 5. needed to be multiplied by 10. Unfortunately. 10X. presenting lower probe tip capacitance for higher attenuation factors. This core saturation Voltage probe attenuation factors are achieved using resistive results in a clipping off or suppression of those portions of voltage divider techniques. Probe attenuation factors It should also be noted that some probes have a low-frequen- allow the measurement range of an oscilloscope to beextend. the real concern is the example. product is not exceeded. ed. the accuracy specification refers to the accuracy of the current-to-voltage conversion. For example. and some probes may have selectable attenuation factors. This depends on the current transformer turns ratio and the value and accuracy of the terminating resistance. attenuate. probes with higher the waveform occurring during saturation. The 10X designation. A 1X probe doesn’t .7% (–3 dB). the signal. the core saturates. the signal voltage output of the Also the divider effect splits probe capacitance. or as indicated in Figure 5. effectively probe will be linear and the measurement accurate. Bandwidth is that frequency in the response curve where a sine wave’s amplitude is decreased by 70. cy bandwidth limit as well.Primer For current-sensing probes. and 100X. for example. The bandwidth of a probe is that frequency where the probe’s The attenuation factor is the amount by which the probe response causes output amplitude to fall to 70. reminded you that all amplitude measurements overall bandwidth of the oscilloscope and probe combined. reduces signal amplitude. Consequently. Amp-Second Product (current probes) For current probes. For example. while a 10X probe reduces the signal to 1/10th of its probe tip amplitude. one for The 1X. If the product of the average current and pulse width exceeds the amp-second rating. Thus. Because of their design. their bandwidth must be specified with two values. handling capability of the current transformer’s core. for For oscilloscope measurements. and a 100 MHz probe has a 100 MHz bandwidth.7% (–3 dB).tektronix.3. Current probes that work with dedicated amplifiers have outputs that are calibrated directly in amps/div and have accuracy specifica- tions that are given in terms of attenuator accuracy as a percentage of the current/division setting. oscilloscopes didn’t automatically sense probe attenuation and adjust scale factor accordingly. an oscilloscope results in some degradation of bandwidth performance. using a 100 MHz generic probe with a 100 MHz oscilloscope results in a measurement 42 www.

5 millivolts at the output. Waveform transitions. This is the capacitance that the the CMRR value. In practice. the sine wave’s amplitude will be measured as being 70. This is most often stated 10. in a differential measurement. For 10X and 100X probes. bandwidth to preserve the high frequencies that make up resulting in an infinite CMRR. the bandwidth at the probe tip when used with the designated amplitude of the pulse is affected.000:1 is considered quite good. Tektronix specifies its passive in making rise time measurements. Probes also present a capacitance to the input of the In selecting oscilloscopes and oscilloscope probes. the Generally. where: Attenuation of these high-frequency components by a band- Ad = the voltage gain for the difference signal width limit results in the transition appearing slower than it really is. What this means is in terms of a measurement system rise time. probe capacitance specifications refer to the frequency at which CMRR is specified is as important as capacitance at the probe tip. www. For accurate rise and fall time measurements. Thus. Also. Ad should be large. oscilloscope models. which should that a common-mode input signal of 5 volts will be rejected typically be four to five times faster than the rise times that to the point where it appears as 0. and this probe capacitance should match important to realize that bandwidth has several implications that of the oscilloscope. are made up of high-frequency components. you are trying to measure. at a high frequency is better than a differential probe with the same CMRR at a lower frequency. while Ac should equalize to zero. the In terms of amplitude measurements. capacitance is referred to as a compensation range. for greater amplitude measurement accuracy. Capacitance (universal) Since CMRR decreases with increasing frequency.tektronix. ABCs of Probes system with a bandwidth performance that is something Probe tip capacitance is important because it affects how less than 100 MHz. CMRR is a key figure of merit for differential probes and amplifiers. a CMRR of the waveform’s rise and fall times. A low tip capacitance minimizes errors bandwidth performance. To avoid the uncertainty of overall system pulses are measured. At the bandwidth limit. if a pulse’s duration voltage probes to provide a specified measurement system is less than five times the probe’s RC time 43 . Ac = the voltage gain for common-mode signal it’s necessary to use a measurement system with adequate Ideally. such as pulse and square CMRR = |Ad/Ac| wave edges. a sine wave’s amplitude oscilloscope’s input capacitance should be within the becomes increasingly attenuated as the sine wave frequency compensation range of the probe. it’s necessary to select oscilloscopes and probes Common-mode rejection ratio (CMRR) is a differential probe’s with bandwidths several times greater than the highest ability to reject any signal that is common to both test points frequency waveform that you plan to measure.7% of its CMRR (differential probes) actual amplitude. A differential probe with a high CMRR probe adds to the circuit test point or device under test. For probe matching. this for measurement accuracy. which is different than tip capacitance. Such rejection is important for measuring difference signals in the presence of noise. approaches the bandwidth limit. it’s oscilloscope. and it is defined by: The same holds true for measuring waveform rise and fall times.

a current probe’s reflected impedance values are in scope connector. Frequency Derating (current probes) Current probe specifications should include amplitude versus Maximum Voltage Rating (universal) frequency derating curves that relate core saturation to Voltages approaching a probe’s maximum rating should be increasing frequency. the range of milliOhms and present an insignificant effect on circuits of 25Ω or more impedance. The maximum peak pulse current rating is usually stated as an amp-second product. The result is reduced coupling performance for low frequencies and (current probes) loss of measurement response for low-frequency currents.tektronix. probe’s pulse supporting capability. long. probe’s coil core. to travel through these components from probe tip to oscillo- Typically. The decay time constant is sometimes called the A probe’s input resistance is the impedance that the probe probe L/R ratio. In AC current measurements. plus peak AC) that the probe will accept and still perform as specified. This time constant is the secondary inductance (probe coil) divided by the terminating Input Resistance (universal) . The maximum voltage rating is determined by the increasing frequency is that a waveform with an average breakdown voltage rating of the probe body or the probe current of zero amps will experience clipping of amplitude components at the measuring point. Propagation Delay (universal) Insertion Impedance (current probes) Every probe offers some small amount of time delay or Insertion impedance is the impedance that is transformed phase shift that varies with signal frequency. This rating should not be exceeded. peak-to-peak values Direct Current (current probes) must be derated versus frequency to calculate the maximum Direct current decreases the permeability of a current total input current. The effect of core saturation with avoided. With larger L/R ratios. 44 www. longer current pulses can be rep- Maximum Input Current Rating (current probes) resented without significant decay or droop in amplitude. With smaller L/R ratios. places on the test point at zero Hertz (DC). secondary voltages.duration pulses will be seen as The maximum input current rating is the total current (DC decaying to zero before the pulse is actually completed. This is a function from the current probe’s coil (the secondary) into the current of the probe components and the time it takes for the signal carrying conductor (the primary) that’s being measured.Primer Decay Time Constant (current probes) Input Capacitance (universal) The decay time constant specification indicates a current The probe capacitance measured at the probe tip. It takes into account Some AC current probes offer current-bucking options that core saturation and development of potentially damaging null the effects of DC. This decreased permeability results in a Maximum Peak Pulse Current Rating decreased coil inductance and L/R time constant. peaks as the waveform’s frequency or amplitude is increased.

e.” When input is sampled. CMOS. (Vth) the level is said to be “high” or “1. When the input is above the threshold voltage being measured. it detects logic threshold levels. For example. the waveforms should be acquired using matched probes so that each signal experiences the Threshold Voltage (logic) same propagation delay through the probes. tive measurements are being made between two or more Attenuator voltage probes (i. when measuring time differences subject to accuracy changes due to changes in temperature. you're only concerned with the logic Whether or not these delays will have an effect on the power state of the signal. Tangential noise figures are approxi- mately two times the RMS noise. and user-definable. the most significant shift is caused by the probe Temperature Range (universal) cable. they will have different propagation delays. When Since voltage and current probes are of markedly different you connect a mixed signal oscilloscope to a digital circuit construction. www. state (1 or 0) is made. the level ences will generally be insignificant. to increased losses. These digital acquisition probes connect to tip to oscilloscope input. For example. between two waveforms. Tangential Noise (active probes) ranging from TTL levels to. Instead.tektronix. and where the decision about the signal's logic five times faster than the fastest transition to be measured. the delay 45 . At this point there are just two logic levels measurement depends on the frequencies of the waveforms of concern. the mixed the delay differences may have a noticeable effect. analog details. A logic probe measures and analyzes signals differently than Another example would be making power measurements by other oscilloscope probes. ABCs of Probes Usually. For Hz and kHz signals. Tangential noise is a method of specifying probe-generated noise in active probes. maximum amplitude versus frequency derating curve. The logic probe doesn't measure using a voltage probe and a current probe in combination. A longer cable results in coil’s magnetic shielding.” conversely. 10X.. a 42-inch section of special probe cable Current probes have a maximum operating temperature that’s has a 5 ns signal delay. ECL. current probes have a Propagation delay is usually only a concern when compara. etc. However. For a 1 MHz signal.) may be waveforms. using a logic probe. The threshold value is set by the user. For accurate rise and fall time the device under test and the probe's internal comparator is measurements on pulses. 100X. signal oscilloscope stores a “1” or a “0” depending on the level of the signal relative to the voltage threshold. for MHz signals below Vth is a “low” or “0. Increasing temperature corresponds correspondingly longer signal delays. the 5 ns delay the result of heating effects from energy induced into the results in a two-degree phase shift. the measurement system’s rise where the input voltage is compared against the threshold time (oscilloscope and probe combined) should be three to voltage (Vth). Because of this. Rise Time (universal) The large number of signals that can be captured at one time A probe’s 10 to 90% response to a step function indicates by the logic probe is what sets it apart from the other oscillo- the fastest transition that the probe can transmit from scope probes.

the ground lead can also act as an antenna for noise. however. if so.tektronix. This ringing provides information and guidelines for determining if aberra. with probe tip capacitance and signal source capacitance. waveforms shown in Figure 6. One effect of this was discussed and illustrated earlier. The input signal at the probe tip must contain enough This difficulty arises from the fact that ground leads.35/Tr) and has enough high-frequency content result of the measurement process. beginning with the ground lead. how seen as aberrations impressed on top of the step. whether high-frequency information (fast rise time) to cause the on a probe or in a circuit. in Figure 6.1 were captured with a tions. Bandwidth/rise time limits Figure . The noise This 1 ns rise time is equivalent to the oscilloscope’s band- or aberrations may be part of the signal. or they may be the width (BW ≈ 0. The oscilloscope system bandwidth must be high enough Ground lead issues continue to appear in oscilloscope to handle the high-frequency content of the signal at the measurements because of the difficulty in determining and probe tip. where a long Figure 6.Primer Advanced Probing Techniques The preceding chapters have covered all of the basic informa- tion that you should be aware of concerning oscilloscope probes and their use. ground lead inductance forms a resonant circuit that causes This chapter explores some of the advanced probing issues ringing at certain frequencies. circuits of their own as signal frequency increases. 2. as shown to address the problem. and the longer Eventually. the standard probes provided with your oscilloscope will prove more than adequate as long as you keep in mind the basic issues of: a. you’ll run into some the ground lead the greater the inductance. signal is injected in series with the step waveform. 46 www. In order to see ringing or other aberrations caused by poor grounding. The actual waveform at the probe tip was a Suspicion is the first defense against ground-lead problems.1. The to being the source of ringing and other waveform aberra. the following two conditions must exist: Ground Lead Issues 1. These aberrations can be changed by moving the probe cable or placing a hand over the cable (b). In addition can be seen when the above two conditions are met. Always be suspicious of any noise or aberrations being observed on an oscilloscope display of a signal.1. The following discussion to cause ringing within the probe’s ground circuit. For most measurement situations. step waveform with a 1 ns rise time. that you’re most likely to encounter. and it’s tions are part of the measurement process and. establishing a true ground reference point for measurements. A fast step (1 ns Tr) has aberrations impressed on it due to use of a Potential for signal source loading six-inch probe ground lead (a). When combined probing situations that go beyond the basics. b.1 shows examples of ringing and aberrations that ground lead caused ringing to appear on a pulse. 350 MHz oscilloscope while using a probe having a six-inch ground lead. have inductance and become ringing or aberrations due to poor grounding. Probe compensation adjustment Proper probe grounding Ground Lead Length Any probe ground lead has some inductance.

loscope and probe. of the aberration-free step waveform is shown in Figure 6.1a. Only this time. however. between the two situations.tektronix.1b was obtained by reposi. as compared to Figure 6. ABCs of Probes Figure 6. the six-inch probe ground lead was removed. If placing your hand over the probe or moving the cable causes a change in the 47 . and the step signal was acquired through an ECB to probe- Both of the waveform displays in Figure 6.3. the same waveform was again acquired with the same oscilloscope and probe. The tioning the probe cable slightly and leaving a hand placed display is now an accurate portrayal of the step waveform at over part of the probe cable. and the presence of a hand near the cable caused a small There are two main conclusions to be drawn from the above change in the capacitance and high-frequency termination examples. The second is change in the aberrations. Notice. An ECB to probe-tip adaptor. The repositioning of the cable the test point.1 were obtained tip adaptor installation (see Figure 6.2). This includes using ECB to probe-tip realize. the aberrations are being caused by the probe grounding system. To further illustrate the above points. www. that the aberrations are Elimination of the probe’s ground lead and direct termination slightly different in Figure 6. move the probe cable around.2.1b. that product designers can ensure higher effectiveness of The fact that the probe ground lead can cause aberrations product maintenance and troubleshooting by designing in on a waveform with fast transitions is an important point to product testability. Figure 6. To distinguish installation or maintenance. The first is that ground leads should be kept as characteristics of the probe grounding circuitry and thus a short as possible when probing fast signals. of the probe in the ECB to probe-tip adaptor has eliminated The difference seen in Figure 6. The 1 ns rise time step waveform as acquired through an ECB to probe-tip adaptor.3. virtually all of the aberrations from the waveform display. A correctly grounded (terminated) probe will be completely insensitive to cable positioning or touch. It’s also just as important to realize that aberrations Adaptors where necessary to better control the test environ- seen on a waveform might just be part of the waveform and ment and avoid misadjustment of product circuitry during not a result of the probe grounding method. The resulting display while acquiring the same step waveform with the same oscil.

tektronix. because of their high input the oscilloscope common and test circuit power line grounds impedance and extremely low tip capacitance (often less and the probe ground lead and cable. don’t allow probe cables to lie alongside or across equipment power cables. poor grounding can result in noise appearing on any noise may be in the form of spikes or bursts resulting from signal of any speed. Both mechanisms are is to minimize ground loops by using the same power circuits are discussed as follows. FET probes. this can be done by using special probe tip adaptors Noise injection into the grounding system can be caused by with integral grounding tips. but with an active FET probe (b). different building system grounds. This is illustrated will flow. building equipment. The result is that you’ll see tip. Yet another alternative is to use unwanted current flow in the ground loop existing between an active FET probe.5. As with ringing and aberra. Effects on the waveform of 1/2-inch. 48 www. for an oscilloscope. Examples of ground lead effects for passive probes versus active probes. and test circuit on two different power plugs. generally from an external source and its appearance is not a With ground loop noise injection. and 12-inch ground leads used on a pas- sive probe (a). or should be. can eliminate many of the ground lead problems points are. b. at zero volts. though. noise might actually be part of the signal at the probe with the signal from the probe tip. Figure 6. Just as often. 6-inch. Same waveform acquired using the same ground leads.5). and no ground current often experienced with passive probes. remember to Ground Loop Noise Injection keep the probe ground lead as short as possible. or the signal of interest grounding techniques. there could be small voltage differences or noise on one of the building ground Ground Lead Noise Problems systems (see Figure 6. The complete ground circuit. The first approach the probe cable or probe ground lead. When you’re faced with measuring fast waveforms where an ECB to probe-tip adaptor hasn’t been installed. The difference is that the noise is may be riding on noise. such as air conditioners. However. Additionally. Figure 6. Passive probe.. the probes and their cables should be kept away from sources of potential interference.4. In other frequency noise (50 or 60 Hz).4. In particular. impressed on signals as a result of probing. noise voltage will be injected into the oscilloscope in series tions. FET probe. or ground loop. the noise is often line function of the speed of the signal being observed. One is by ground There are various things that can be done to avoid or loop noise injection. if the oscilloscope and test circuit are on further in Figure 6. The other is by inductive pickup through minimize ground loop noise problems.Primer Device Under Test Power Supply a. or it might appear on the signal as a result of improper noise riding on the signal of interest. for the oscilloscope and circuit under test. the words. In many cases. The resulting current flow will devel- Noise is another type of signal distortion that can appear on op a voltage drop across the probe’s outer cable shield. This oscilloscope waveform displays. all of these than 1 pF).com/accessories . probe. switching on There are two primary mechanisms by which noise can be and off. Normally.

Proximity to power lines or other current-carrying is to disconnect the probe from the circuit and clip the conductors can induce current flow in the probe’s outer probe’s ground lead to the probe tip. ground leads away from noise sources on the board under ing as a single-turn loop antenna when connected to the test test.tektronix. Use differential probes to make the measurement (rejects common-mode noise). To minimize this potential source This loop antenna will pick up areas of strong radiated noise of noise. keep lead. the noise is being Noise can enter a common ground system by induction induced into the ground lead. such as clock lines. and in the circuit. An example of circuit board induced noise in the probe ground loop (tip shorted to the ground clip). ground lead connected to the probe tip. use an approved isolation transformer or preferably a ground isolation monitor specifically designed for use with an oscilloscope. system common ground. This is the result of typical probe ground leads appear.6 shows an example of what can be always keep probe cables away from possible sources of found on a logic circuit board by searching with the probe interference. oscilloscope or probe isolator before connecting the the question is: Does the noise really occur as part of the probe to the circuit under test. This ground lead antenna is particularly susceptible to amount of noise pick-up. a shorter ground lead will reduce the circuit. or is it being induced into the probe ground lead? To answer this question. ABCs of Probes If ground loop noise problems persist. The circuit is completed through the building tip/ground-lead loop antenna back and forth over the circuit. try moving the probe ground lead Induced Noise around. always connect probes to the When you see noise on an oscilloscope display of a signal. 3. Then pass this probe- cable shield. 2. signal at the probe tip. Use a power line isolation transformer on either the test circuit or on the oscilloscope. www. If it’s necessary to float the measurements. In no case should you attempt to isolate the oscilloscope or test circuit by defeating the safety three-wire ground system. Use a ground isolation monitor. the ground lead may pick up signals that will be mixed with the signal at the probe tip. Figure 6.6. Figure 6. Additionally. electromagnetic interference from logic circuits or other fast changing 49 . If the noise signal level changes. particularly when probes with long cables Another very effective approach to noise source identification are used. you may need to open the ground loop by one of the following methods: 1. 4. Use an isolation amplifier to isolate the oscilloscope probes from the oscilloscope. If the probe ground lead is positioned too close to certain areas on the circuit board under test. use probes with shorter cables when possible. Noise can also be induced directly into the probe ground To minimize noise induced into the probe ground. Caution To avoid electrical shock. into probe cables.

In practice. This requires use of some sort of differential amplifier so that the two signal lines (the double-ended signal source) Av = the amplifier’s gain can be algebraically summed into one signal line reference Vo = the output signal referenced to earth ground to ground (single-ended signal) for input to the oscilloscope. A standard oscilloscope measurement where the –175 V probe is attached to a signal point and the probe ground +175 V +7 V lead is attached to circuit ground is actually a measurement VTP2 VGS (TP1-TP2) of the signal difference between the test point and ground. VDM = the V+in – V-in term in the equation above Notice that the common mode voltage.7. however. A differential amplifier has two signal lines which are differenced into a single signal that is referenced to the ground. The result Figure 6. or difference signal. both of which are above where: ground. the source voltage swings from the positive supply rail to the negative rail. VCM.tektronix. VCM. or if the expressed as: oscilloscope allows waveform math.7. all measurements are differential measure- ments. The differential amplifier can be a as the differential voltage or differential mode signal and is special amplifier that is part of the probing system. A transformer allows the gate signal to be 50 www. Differential Measurements Strictly speaking. between its two inputs and completely rejects any regardless of its amplitude or frequency. Differential amplifier used to measure gate to source voltage of upper line and the test signal line. differential measurements refers to the measurement of two signal lines. is not part Understanding Difference and Common-mode Signals of the above equation. As the MOSFET switches on and off.8 provides an example of using a differential amplifier is an output voltage given by: to measure the gate drive of the upper MOSFET device in Vo – Av (V+in . VDM. is referred to as shown in Figure 6. –175 V –7 V In that sense. The voltage of interest. Note that the source potential changes 350 volts during the measurement.8.Primer + + AV VO – + – Differential TP1 Mode +175 V VDM + Common TP2 (Vs) Mode VO = AV • VDM VCM Figure 6. amplifier rejects all of the common-mode component. rejection of where: the common-mode signal is a key concern in differential measurement quality. there are two signal lines – the ground signal Figure 6.V-in) an inverter circuit. transistor in an inverter bridge. That’s because the ideal differential An ideal differential amplifier amplifies the “difference” signal. In either . each signal line can be acquired on separate oscilloscope channels and the two VDM channels algebraically summed. voltage which is common to both inputs.

Common-mode error from a differential amplifier with 10.tektronix. The true definition of considerably higher than 30 kHz. The oscilloscope is now apparent VDM seen at the output resulting from the common. while tion as a function of frequency. the CMRR will probably be CMRR is “differential-mode gain divided by common-mode worse than that specified at the 30 kHz point. Therefore. often not the case in real-life. Some differential amplifiers plot the CMRR specifica- swing) at sufficient resolution. you cannot simply subtract the error from the displayed waveform. CMRR performance can be of the CMRR error (see Figure 6-10). suppose you need to measure the voltage in the output damping resistor of the audio power amplifier shown in Figure 6. Temporarily connect assessed with no input signal. such as 2 V/division. one ten thou- VOUT sandth of the common-mode signal will erroneously appear 80Vp-p 35mVp-p _ as VDM at the output of the differential amplifier.000:1 CMRR.9. For example. With the amplifier 0. In either case.000 or 8 mV. The CMRR then becomes the both input leads to the source.1Ω driven to full power with a 1 kHz sine wave. The 8 mV of residual common- Measured voltage + could be as high mode signal represents up to a 22% error in the true 35 mV as 42 mV (22% error) signal! – 45 V It’s important to note that the CMRR specification is an Figure 6. differential amplifiers cannot reject all of the be certain that your CMRR comparisons are at the same common-mode signal. You can now mode input. A small amount of common-mode frequency or frequencies. see the importance of this. This is desired differential 51 . gain referred to the input”: Whenever the common-mode component is not sinusoidal. voltage appears as an error signal in the output. Therefore subtracting the displayed common-mode dB = 20 log (ADM/ACM) error from the differential measurement will not accurately For example. others simply provide CMRR rejecting the several-hundred-volt transition of the source specifications at a few key frequencies. CMRR = ADM/ACM an empirical test is the quickest way to determine the extent For evaluation purposes. To cancel the error term. which would be 80 V/10.000:1 – or in dB: Remember. the common- The ability of a differential amplifier to minimize undesirable mode signal in the inverter of Figure 6. absolute value.000:1 is equivalent to 80 dB. it’s to ground. The differential amplifier being used has a CMRR specification of 10. It doesn’t specify polarity or degrees of phase shift of the error.9.8 is a 30 kHz square common-mode signals is referred to as common-mode wave. 10. ABCs of Probes + 45 V the damper (VDM) should reach 35 mV with an output swing (VCM) of 80 Vp-p. the phase difference between VCM and VDM is not specified. a CMRR of 10. displaying only the common-mode error. the voltage across www. At full load.000:1 at 1 kHz. CMRR generally is referenced to the source. The differential amplifier allows highest (best) at DC and degrades with increasing frequency the oscilloscope to measure the true VGS signal (a few volt of VCM. This It’s also important to realize that CMRR specifications assume common-mode error signal is indistinguishable from the that the common-mode component is sinusoidal. Also. important in comparing differential amplifiers or probes to In real-life. This is expressed either as a ratio – such as determine if the magnitude of the error signal is significant. Since the square wave contains energy at frequencies rejection ratio or CMRR for short.

Minimizing Differential Measurement Errors High-frequency measurements subject to excessive common- mode can be improved by winding both input leads through Connecting the differential amplifier or probe to the signal a ferrite torroid. When using probes or be the same model and cable length. cannot be used as it’s impossible to precisely balance their attenuation. Because measurement applications the use of attenuating probes. With both inputs connected to the same To minimize this. any induced voltage tends er are driven from significantly different source impedances.11.10. it’s common practice to twist the + and – point. This situation produces the best CMRR and other noise pick up. This attenuates high-frequency signals which source is generally the greatest source of error. they should connectors with the shell grounded. 52 www. which is rejected by the differential the CMRR will be degraded. Any cabling should be of the same length for both inputs. However there’s one effect this differential and will be faithfully summed into the output! test will not .Primer +175 V + – + – Figure 6. At high gains. the loop area is very small. Any induced voltage tends to be inthe VCM path which is rejected by the differential amplifier. amplifier. To get the best perform- –175 V ance. a set of probes should be dedicated to each specific Figure 6. it’s high-frequency applications. This test will not catch the effect of differential source impedances. The input connectors of most differential amplifiers are BNC If individual probes are used for each signal line. Input cabling that’s spread apart acts as a transformer The test illustrated by Figure 6. Residual common-mode appears at the output. With the input leads twisted togeth- performance.11. To maintain are common to both inputs. hence less field passes through it. there are no precise rules. Empirical test for adequate common-mode rejection. ble. they simply vary. dure included with the probes. there’s always a question of what frequency signals with large common-mode voltages. Because the differential signals the input match. Any AC magnetic field passing through the loop the extent of common-mode rejection error in the actual induces a voltage which appears to the amplifier input as measurement environment. as indicated in Figure 6. er.10 is useful for determining winding. When measuring low- coaxial input connections. Both inputs amplifier and calibrated with that amplifier using the proce- are driven from the same point. to be in the VCM path. there’s no difference in driving impedance as seen input cables together in a pair. avoid to do with the grounds. When attenuation is needed for high-voltage or When measuring low-level signals at low frequencies. special passive probes designed generally best to connect the grounds only at the amplifier specifically for differential applications should be used. This reduces line frequency by the amplifier. they’re unaffected.tektronix. But when the two inputs of a differential amplifi. end and leave both unconnected at the input end. With the input leads twisted together. both paths should be as identical as possi- pass through the core in both directions. These probes have provisions for precisely trimming DC attenuation and AC compensation.

connecting the probe ground to the circuit may noise problems. forms a series resonant “tank” cir- cuit which may ring. In single-ended measurements. It operates by summing multiple acquisitions of remember to connect it to ground! It’s easy to forget where the repetitive waveform and computing an average waveform the ground connection is when using differential amplifiers from the multiple acquisitions. Thus. This lowers the effective inductance through However. Consequently.12a and Figure 6. before resorting to extremes. averaging four of noise and adequate measurement sensitivity. and the concept of ground does not enter into the measurement. At higher frequencies. using a Noise Reduction short ground lead reduces the inductance in the resonant Ambient noise levels that would be considered negligible circuit. attaching the ground lead may make the situation power-line filters and a shielded room may be necessary for worse! If this happens. the process of signal aver- of damage. The signal averaging can provide extraordinary improvements in best advice when measuring high frequencies is to try making the SNR (signal-to-noise ratio) of the acquired signal. At the extreme. you should consider the shield.e. try grounding the probes together at noise-free measurement of very low amplitude signals. Differential measurements are made averaging (b). b. thus reducing the ring component. is bypassed with capacitors. problem when measuring higher-frequency signals. eight aver- ages (23) provides 9 dB of improvement. oscilloscopes. If this isn’t noise pick up by the measurement system. This usually doesn’t cause a itive and the noise that you’re trying to eliminate is random. between two probe tips. www. Foremost of these challenges are the problems provides up to 3 dB of SNR improvement. An the measurement with and without the ground lead. the setup which gives the best results. ABCs of Probes This provides a return path for any currents induced into the shield. A noisy signal (a) can be cleaned up by a signal width of the amplifier. In some situations. the input ends. However. but doesn’t create a ground loop which may upset the measurement or the device-under-test. acquisitions (22) provides 6 dB of improvement. This is the case if the millivolts or less.12b.tektronix. and so on. effectively moving a. Figure 6. Ideally. Since random noise has a since they can probe anywhere in the circuit without the risk long-term average value of zero. minimizing ground loops common-mode source has very low impedance to ground at and keeping ground leads short are imperatives for reducing high frequencies. along with the lead inductance. Signal averaging is a standard function of most digital When connecting the probe ground lead to the circuit.12. This lowers the inductance. averaging just two waveform acquisitions (21) challenges. when measuring signals of a few hundred millivolts or more a ring resulting from fast differential signals may also be are no longer negligible when measuring signals of tens of reduced by attaching the ground lead. the resonating frequency higher. the probe input capacitance. i. If the signal you’re trying to measure is repet- generate a ground loop. then use example of this is shown in Figure 6. hopefully beyond the band. aging reduces random noise on the repetitive signal. signal averaging as a simple and inexpensive solution to Of course. this effect can be minimized by using the shortest possible ground lead. Small Signal Measurements signal averaging improves SNR by 3 dB per power of two Measuring low-amplitude signals presents a unique set of averages. the 53 . if the ring is generated from a fast rise of the common-mode component. The amount of improvement is expressed in terms of SNR.

For the same two-division display of Remember. to provide a two-division high display of a 20 mV p-to-p even in high noise environments! signal. in doing this. remember amplifiers. that you’ll need to be extra cautious about the bandwidth limit of the small signals you’re measuring and the possibility of signal source loading by the probe. and the or attenuation needed for displaying a signal is selected via advantage of amplifying the small signal so that it will be with- the oscilloscope’s vertical sensitivity setting. this will not be the usual probe sup. which is adjusted in the sensitivity range of the oscilloscope. though. The amount of amplification noise immunity through common-mode rejection. the input signal for an amplitude calibrated display of the sig- The differential preamplification offers the advantage of some nal on the oscilloscope screen. These scope input must have enough gain or sensitivity to provide specially designed preamplifiers have features that allow use- at least a few divisions of signal display height. as discussed in previous chapters. always follow the manufacturer’s recommend- you’ll need to use a non-attenuating 1X probe. This. a 5 mV/div oscilloscope setting becomes a 50 mV/div noise rejection since there will not be noise common to both setting when a 10X probe is used. In order to display and measure small signals. then a better approach is to take advantage of the much higher bandwidths and lower loading typical of 1X active probes. and generally higher tip capacitance. And. 54 www. which differential measurement between the signal line and signal reduce oscilloscope sensitivity by a factor of 10. taking full advantage of a differential a 10 mV . be extra cau- that 1X passive probes have lower bandwidths. However. Typically. ed procedures for attaching and using all probes and probe However. able oscilloscope measurements on signals as small as 5 µV. some form of preamplification will An oscilloscope’s measurement sensitivity is a function of it’s be necessary. the oscillo- sensitivities on the order of 10 µV/div can be attained. in terms of volts per display division (V/div).Primer Increasing Measurement Sensitivity In cases where the small signal amplitude is below the oscillo- scope’s sensitivity range. with active probes in particular. Consequently. If any of these appear to be a problem. the higher sensitivity setting of 5 mV/div preamplifier requires use of a matched set of high-quality would be needed. lower input tious about over-voltages that may damage voltage-sensitive impedance. to maintain the signal line and ground. As a final note. be attached to the test circuit ground. Failing to use matched probes will defeat the corresponds to high sensitivity and vice versa. the highest signal measurement sensitivity of the oscilloscope. For example. in essence. In other ground. you’ll also need an ade. Note that a low volts-per-division setting passive probes. This means probe components. the negative signal probe can plied as a standard accessory with most oscilloscopes. differential preamplification is generally used. The input circuitry either amplifies or attenuates small signals. in cases where you need to make single-ended rather quate probe. is a Standard accessory probes are usually 10X probes. you lose common-mode words. the oscilloscope would require a vertical sensitivity setting of 10 mV/div. common-mode noise rejection capabilities of the differential preamplifier.tektronix. than differential measurements. In addition to the requirement of adequate oscilloscope sensi- tivity for measuring small signals. Because of the noise susceptibility of the very input circuitry. With differential preamplifiers designed for oscilloscope use. Also.

www. use your test shock. Then properly ground the probe before connecting the probe to any test point. Probe ground leads should be connected to earth ground and observe any derating information. Connect probe ground leads to earth ground only. the grounding conductor must be connected equipment only as specified by the manufacturer. To avoid electric is connected to. Observe All Terminal Ratings Isolation of an oscilloscope from ground that is not To avoid fire or shock hazard. Check probe and test equipment documentation for. Except for the probe tip and the probe connector center conductor. 55 . remove the probe tip from the circuit first. Connect the ground lead of probes to earth ground only. test equipment. In this case. increasing frequency. ensure that the product Keep in mind that all voltages and currents are is properly grounded. the second lead is a common lead and not a ground lead. all accessible metal on the probe (including the ground clip) is connected to the connector shell. being present on the connectors. observe all ratings and specifically designed and specified for this type of markings on the product. To avoid potential hazards. the maximum input voltage rating may decrease with When disconnecting probes from the circuit under test. Connect the probe to the oscilloscope first. Before making connections to the input or output terminals of the product. Consult the product manual for operation. to earth ground. follow the manufacturer’s Connect and Disconnect Probes Properly specification for maximum voltage level that this can be connected to. controls. but there are some Caution scopes that are designed and specified to operate in For those scopes that are specifically designed and floating applications. or other sur- Do not apply a potential to any terminal that exceeds the faces of the oscilloscope and probes. or connecting a ground lead to anything further ratings information before making connections to other than ground could result in dangerous voltages the product. potentially dangerous. For example. Caution This is true for most scopes.tektronix. then disconnect the ground lead. ABCs of Probes Explanation of Safety Precautions Use Proper Grounding Procedures Review the following safety precautions to avoid injury and to Probes are indirectly grounded through the grounding con- prevent damage to your test equipment or any product that it ductor of the oscilloscope power cord. either in terms of personal Never attempt to defeat the power cord grounds of any hazard or damage to equipment or both. maximum rating of that terminal. specified to operate in a floating oscilloscope applica- tion.

Example derating curve. Actual values and ranges will vary with specific products.1. normally above 300 volts and 1 MHz. and other contaminants on the probe surface can provide a conductive path.Primer Avoid Exposed Circuitry Avoid touching exposed circuitry or components with your hands or any other part of your body. probe bodies. Potentially explosive atmospheres may exist wherever gasoline. Also. Removing covers. necting the probe leads. Do not handle the input leads while the circuit is active. ether. Figure 7. There’s always a risk of RF burns when using non-ground- ed probes and lead sets to measure signals. and other volatile substances are in use. solvents.1. atmosphere could result in an explosion. Keep Probe Surfaces Clean and Dry Do Not Operate Without Covers Moisture. have it inspected by qualified turn power off to the source before connecting or discon- service personnel before continuing usage. Make sure that probe tips and ground lead clips are attached such that they do not accidentally brush against each other or other parts of the circuit under test. do Immersing a probe in a liquid could provide a conductive not operate measurement equipment in wet or damp path between internal components or result in damage conditions. to or corrosion of internal components or the outer body and shielding. have been in use. specified in the probe’s documentation. or connector housings will expose conductors or components with potentially hazardous Probes should be cleaned using only the procedures voltages. Do Not Operate with Suspected Failures If you suspect there’s damage. to an oscilloscope or probe. Avoid RF Burns While Handling Probes To avoid RF (radio frequency) burns. If you need to use a probe within the risk area for RF burn. dry. keep probe surfaces clean and cover or protective housing removed. as shown in Figure 7.tektronix. For safe and Oscilloscopes and probes should not be operated with any accurate measurements. 56 www. either electrical or physical. do not handle the probe leads when the leads are connected to a source that’s above the voltage and frequency limits specified for RF burn risk. propane. shielding. Do Not Operate in Wet/Damp Conditions Do Not Immerse Probes in Liquids To avoid electrical shock or damage to equipment. or are being stored. Do Not Operate in an Explosive Atmosphere Probes should be cleaned using only the procedures Operating electrical or electronic equipment in an explosive specified in the probe’s documentation. some fine dusts or powders suspended in the air may present an explosive atmosphere. .

a 100 volt peak-to-peak signal is attenuated to which the voltage at the gate terminal controls the amount of 10 volts peak-to-peak by a 10X probe. Signals may have aberrations caused by the circuit conditions of the signal source. between two points. In any where: measurement where aberrations are involved. attenuator probe – A probe that effectively multiplies the distributed elements (L. R. amplitude measurement accuracy may be derated based on the frequency of the signal being measured. other instead of earth ground. C) – Resistance and reactance scale factor range of an oscilloscope by attenuating the that are spread out over the length of a 57 . convert the sensed current to a corresponding voltage signal for measurement by an oscilloscope. It is a key figure of merit associated with the flat tops and bases of waveforms or for differential probes and amplifiers. there must be a return path for the current. This return path capacitance – An electrical phenomenon whereby an electric is provided by a probe ground lead that is attached to the charge is stored. differential probe – A probe that uses a differential amplifier active probe – A probe containing transistors or other active to subtract two signals. it is important Ad = the voltage gain for the difference signal to determine whether the aberrations are actually part of the Ac = the voltage gain for common-mode signal signal or the result of the measurement process. and is defined by: pulses. Generally. for example. distrib- signal.tektronix. www. circuit ground or common. bandwidth (BW) – The continuous band of frequencies that grounding – Since probes must draw some current from a network or circuit passes without diminishing power more the signal source in order for a measurement to be made. on the oscilloscope as a 100 volts peak-to-peak signal floating measurements – Measurements that are made through 10X multiplication of the oscilloscope’s scale factor. measurement by one channel of the oscilloscope. a 10X probe effectively multiplies the uted element values are typically small compared to lumped oscilloscope display by a factor of 10. resulting in one differential signal for devices as part of the probe’s signal conditioning network. usually points in a differential measurement. and aberrations may be CMRR = |Ad/Ac| impressed upon a signal by the measurement system. attenuation – The process whereby the amplitude of a signal differential signals – Signals that are referenced to each is reduced. thus. ABCs of Probes Glossary common-mode rejection ratio (CMRR) – A differential probe’s ability to reject any signal that is common to both test aberrations – Any deviation from the ideal or norm. neither of which is at ground potential. multiplication by attenuating the signal applied to the probe field-effect transistor (FET) – A voltage-controlled device in tip. and then is displayed current through the device. aberrations are specified as a percentage deviation from a flat current probe – A device to sense current flow in a wire and response. than 3-dB from the mid-band power. derate – To reduce the rating of a component or system based on one or more operating variables. For example. These probes achieve component values.

For example. and a sine wave is a cosine wave with or as a magnitude and phase. probe – A device that makes a physical and electrical linear phase – The characteristic of a network whereby the connection between a test point or signal source and phase of an applied sine wave is shifted linearly with increas- an oscilloscope. MOSFET – Metal-oxide semiconductor field-effect transistor. current upon application of the magnetic field. M = √R2 + X2 and phase θ is θ = arctan (X/R) inductance – A property of an electric circuit by which an electromotive force is induced in it by a variation of current either in the circuit itself or in a neighboring circuit. sawtooth waveforms. noise – A type of signal distortion that can appear on oscillo- 3x. inductive (L).. or capacitive (C) elements. 58 www. periodic non-sinusoidal waveforms contain frequency compo. jitter – The short-term variations of a digital signal's significant instants from their ideal positions in time. an open circuit would be a “no load” situation.Primer Hall Effect – Generation of an electric potential perpendicular logic probe – A device used to compare threshold voltage to to both an electric current flowing along a conducting material determine logic state (1 or 0) for analysis on an oscilloscope and an external magnetic field applied at right angles to the or mixed signal oscilloscope (MSO). the circuit under test. ing sine wave frequency. Impedance (Z) is phase – A means of expressing the time-related positions of expressed in a complex form as: waveforms or waveform components relative to a reference Z = R + jX point or waveform. 2x. loading – The process whereby a load applied to a source draws current from the source. and other input capacitance. where the magnitude (M) is: 90-degrees of phase shift. being active . low-capacitance probe – A passive probe that has very low harmonics – Square waves. .) of the fundamental which are referred to as harmonic scope waveform displays. (1/period) and frequencies that are integer multiples (1x. the second harmonic of a waveform has a frequency that is twice that of the fundamental. oscilloscope. are referred to as load – The impedance that’s placed across a signal source.tektronix. frequencies. a cosine wave by definition has zero phase. and so to a corresponding voltage signal for measurement by an on. nents that consist of the waveform’s fundamental frequency one of two major types of FET. can be either capacitive (XC) or inductive (XL). a network with linear phase shift maintains the relative phase relationships of harmonics in probe power – Power that’s supplied to the probe from non-sinusoidal waveforms so that there’s no phase-related some source such as the oscilloscope. the third optical probe – A device to sense light power and convert harmonic frequency is three times the fundamental.. impedance – The process of impeding or restricting AC passive probe – A probe whose network equivalent consists signal flow. a a resistive component (R) and a reactive component (X) that probe that contains no active components. a probe amplifier. Impedance is expressed in Ohms and consists of only of resistive (R). or distortion in the waveform. thus. Probes that require power typically have some form of active electronics and.

. meas. on an oscilloscope. probe or oscilloscope channel. the locations and types of discontinuities (faults or mis- scope screen to provide waveform scaling information. one of the elements in a FET (field effect where: transistor). π = 3. www.. C = capacitance in Farads SNR (signal-to-noise ratio) – The ratio of signal amplitude to noise amplitude.. Momentarily pressing the trace ID button on a probe causes the corresponding waveform trace on the oscilloscope to momentarily change in some manner as a means of identifying that trace... urement results. π = 3. ABCs of Probes reactance – An impedance element that reacts to an AC shielding – The practice of placing a grounded conductive signal by restricting its current flow based on the signals sheet of material between a circuit and external noise 59 . trace ID – When multiple waveform traces are displayed ringing – Oscillations that result when a circuit resonates.tektronix. or other information. time domain reflectometry (TDR) – A measurement f = frequency in Hz technique wherein a fast pulse is applied to a transmission L = inductance in Henrys path and reflections of the pulse are analyzed to determine readout – Alphanumeric information displayed on an oscillo. relationship: signal averaging – Summing multiple acquisitions of the XC = 1/2πfC repetitive waveform and computing an average waveform where: from the multiple acquisitions. matches) in the transmission path. rise time is the time it takes the pulse to rise from the 10% amplitude level to the 90% amplitude level. XC = capacitive reactance in Ohms signal fidelity – The signal as it occurs at the probe tip is duplicated at the oscilloscope input. a trace ID feature allows a particular typically. XL = inductive reactance in Ohms source impedance – The impedance seen when looking back into a source. the damped sinusoidal variations seen on pulses are waveform trace to be identified as coming from a particular referred to as ringing. rise time (Tr) – On the rising transition of a pulse. single-ended signals – Signals that are referenced to f = frequency in Hz ground. usually expressed in dB as follows: An inductor (L) presents an inductive reactance to AC signals SNR = 20 log (Vsignal/Vnoise) that’s expressed in Ohms by the following relationship: source – The origination point or element of a signal voltage XL = 2πfL or current. A capacitor (C) presents a capacitive reactance sources so that the shielding material intercepts noise to AC signals that is expressed in Ohms by the following signals and conducts them away from the circuit.14159.14159. also.

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